I recall a conversation from a time when I was teaching middle school students. One student was acting up in class and I had to discipline the student. When I walked over to him I quietly asked him to settle down and focus on the class material. He complied. After class he came over to apologize and then casually mentioned that he couldn't wait until he was the teacher because they he could do "whatever he wanted when he wanted". I asked him why he thought teachers could do whatever they wanted. He responded by saying, "Because they are in charge." I reminded him that my boss was the principal. He then replied, "Well, then I want to be the principal because then I can do what I want to do." With that he left for recess.
The leadership principle of "knowing and following policy" applies to everyone in the organization whether they are the individuals at the lowest level of the organization or like me, the president. Policy and related administrative rules and procedures are important for guiding the processes, making them predicable, fair and objective. The creates a more transparent organization as well.
Policy and procedures function both as an empowering force and a restraining force. Policy and procedure often include a clear delineation of authority and scope of responsibility around an issue. Further the policy or procedure includes a retraining factor. For example, in matters of personnel an administrative rule can include the steps of progressive discipline. These steps allow an individual the authority to discipline while at the same time define what level of discipline should be followed thereby restraining someone from being overly punitive for a minor infraction.
The importance of this leadership principle is often lost in the common sense of the principle. However, over time people begin to assume that their behavior is consistent with policy and procedure and the "we've always done it this way" syndrome sets in causing routine behavior to be synonymous with procedure. Eventually a person or event will challenge the assumption that previous practice had been synonymous with an administrative rule or procedure. These moments are healthy for an organization and administrator because they allow for a pause to assess whether or not routine is consistent with administrative policy and procedures.
As a leader, it is important to regularly review your decisions along side policy and procedure to ensure that bad habits don't set in or routine becomes sloppy.