Putting the City Council's emphasis on ends is a powerful tactic for their leadership, but the Council cannot forget that it is also accountable for the means as well. "Means" include not only practices and methods, but situations and conduct as well - in other words, all aspects of the organization that are not ends (given the definition above). Concerning itself with means, however, is ordinarily an opening for Councils to become entangled in operational details. This is where micro-management and meddling are born. It is a dilemma: on the one hand, Councils are accountable for staff practices and situations, yet dealing with them directly trivializes the Council job. Policy Governance offers a safer way for Councils to deal with this dilemma: The Council can simply state the means that are unacceptable, then get out of the way except to demand data (monitor) that the boundaries thus set are being observed.

As counter-intuitive as this approach sounds, it works magically. The Council can succinctly enumerate the situations, circumstances, practices, activities, conduct, and methods that are off-limits, that is, outside the authority granted to the City Manager. For most Councils, this can be done in a half-dozen pages dealing with staff treatment, financial management, compensation, asset protection, and a few other areas of legitimate Council concern. These proscriptions avoid telling the City Manager how to manage, but do tell him or her how not to manage. Although verbally phrased in an intentionally negative or limiting way (to avoid the Council's tendency to slip back into prescribing means), this approach is psychologically quite positive. The message to the City Manager is, with regard to operational means, "if the Council has not said you can't, you can."

To fulfill City Council leadership in this more effective way, the Council produces four categories of policies in Policy Governance: (1) policies about ends, specifying the results, recipients and costs of results intended, (2) policies that limit City Manager authority about methods, practices, situations, and conduct, (3) policies that prescribe how the Council itself will operate, and (4) policies that delineate the manner in which governance is linked to management.  They are policy categories designed for the job of governing, not for the job of managing as are traditional categories used for Council policy-making.