There's a great story that's been making the rounds of the Interwebs about a Southwest pilot who held a plane so that a grandfather could make it to the bedside of his dying grandchild.(Get the full scoop here.)
The big thing that jumps out at me in this tale (other than continuing proof of Southwest's awesomeness) is the contrast between the way the TSA agents behaved - mindlessly following the rules - and the way the Southwest personnel behaved - using their judgment to do the right thing.
The thing is, the TSA agents aren't allowed to use their judgment - they HAVE to blindly adhere to the regulations, no matter what. They aren't empowered. The Southwest employees, on the other hand, are. Now I'll bet that if TSA chief John Pistole had been there in that terminal at LAX, he would've given the security agents the OK to give Mr. Dickinson priority. But he wasn't, so they couldn't.
I hope the applicability of this situation to associations is clear, but just in case, let me spell it out for you: your senior staff can always make exceptions based on member needs and doing what's right, but that's totally unhelpful, since they are rarely the ones dealing with the immediate need in the moment. If your line staff members aren't empowered to make decisions and do what they need to do in the moment to make things right for a member without worrying about being punished afterward for not following the rules, any statements your organization makes about being member-focused or providing excellent member service are so much bullshit.