“You are remembered for the rules you break.” –Douglas MacArthur
A few years back, Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was all the rage. Fulghum’s text does remind us that simple actions like cleaning up our messes and playing fair are the keys to a good life. While Fulghum is certainly correct in his assertion that applying childhood lessons to adult situations is applicable, there is a danger in this philosophy. In kindergarten, we were conditioned to think that, above all else, we should follow the rules. As leaders, one of our unspoken mandates is to know when to break the rules.
If that statement conjured Scooby Doo howling “Huuuhhh?” in your mind, think about how well following established procedures worked for the folks at United Airlines in the spring of 2017. The forceable removal of a passenger randomly chosen on a full flight to free up seats for a United aircrew did irreparable damage to the company’s image. All the United associates involved in resolving that situation followed company procedures to the letter. If someone had had the courage to break the rules and diffuse the situation, things might have turned out differently for the United brand.
Manuals, procedures, and common practices are not sacred tomes designed to cover the nuances of every situation. As leaders, we must be willing to do what’s right when our guidelines fall short. Yes, there can be professional consequences for going rogue. However, the rewards of judicious rule breaking can benefit you and your organization. I can guarantee that the Board of United now wishes someone had broken the rules that day in 2017.
Go Ahead, Break a Rule: Accelerators
- What rules in your business, organization, or industry need to be challenged?
- How can you go about challenging those rules in a manner that limits downside risks, but creates the greatest upside potential?
- Prioritize three major rules that need to be challenged and take the appropriate steps to challenge them. Once you’re done, move on to the next three.
Dr. Jeff D. Standridge is the best-selling author of “The Innovator’s Field Guide” and “The Top Performer’s Field Guide.” He serves as Managing Director for the Conductor and Innovation Junkie, and teaches in the College of Business at the University of Central Arkansas. Jeff helps organizations and their leaders generate sustained results in the areas of innovation, strategy, profit growth, organizational effectiveness and leadership. Learn more at InnovationJunkie.com.