Recently I have had some internal conflict with a situation where I have been told to pretend I didn’t hear or see a particular message. The directive came to me from someone higher up than myself so naturally I feel I should follow it. In fact this person has been trying to get me to break the rules for some time. She even goes so far as to talk down about me to my peers and staff, including those on the front-line. She views my desire to follow the rules as mean, that I don’t care about our employees and even evil. Her message to me was simple, just do it until you get caught.
It is no secret that leaders are supposed to break rules but what rules should leaders break? That is the question I took to my leadership coach. When he broke it down to me it was so simple that I am surprised I had not thought of it on my own. He told me that there are two types of rules red rules and black rules. The red rules should be challenged and the black rules should always be upheld.
Red rules usually fall under the “we’ve always done it this way” category. Breaking the red rules are where innovation and disruption to an industry are fused into some great output. Breaking the red rules are about shaking up a department, team, organization or industry. Breaking the red rules successfully is how you go from a good leader to a great leader.
The black rules on the other had can be as extreme as law or as fundamental as dating a direct report. Clearly those two lines should never be crossed. Black rules fall under ethics and morality. People in leadership roles who have broken black rules, Jeffrey Skilling of Enron and Bernie Ebbers of MCI. Both of those former leaders of once great companies are now serving prison sentences for breaking black rules.
As you begin your day, create disruption in your industry, shake things up, break the red rules. Stay aware of the black rules and don’t cross that line as you venture down your path to becoming a great leader.
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