Rule breaker, rule maker, and not a rule follower

One of my execs, whom I have the greatest respect for, called me out a few years ago as being a rule breaker, a rule maker, and not a rule follower. I began to see how true that is and why this way of being enables my success in being a change agent in corporate environments. I was recently invited to share my learnings  on this topic at a local meetup.  The slides are here.  And below is a bit of a summary…

There is a time for rule making, breaking, and following. Motley Fool has a related book which talks about evaluating companies based on their product lifecycle. If they are early stage, look for rule breaker characteristics. If they are late stage, look for rule making.

Rule breaking is something we all do occasionally. If you are in a change agent situation, you will need to be breaking rules more frequently though. And when you break rules, you stand alone. Be willing to do the “failure bow.” You are the one taking the risk. And to stay in this game, you need faith and support.  Get a coach and be a coach, one approach

Rule making is most is effective when we are collaborative and inclusive. Rules made alone, without collaboration, do not stick. People will ditch those “imposed” rules at the first opportunity. Some ideas for collaboration: Be a collaborative leader  (see also part 2 and 3)

Rule following has a place as well. Don’t run around and break every rule in sight. Choose carefully. Focus. Just pick a few to break at a time. Follow the rest.  Inbox zero and GTD help keep the rule following burden low. Reference also, the Marshall Goldsmith story “Is it worth it?”  Pick your battles. Have a great attitude about all the rest!  In terms of literal “following,” a few of my agile mentors are Tobias Mayer, Lyssa Adkins, and Michael Spayd.

I’ve also found many systems mapping tools to be valuable. These tools help us to make sense of, or to build intuition about the people, processes, and products.  

We also practiced using powerful questions within the session, though it was too short of a time box.  Here are a few more of my session learnings:  next time I would just ask people for a show of hands on which category people align with rather than trying to “hear all voices” with over 50 people, and I might open space for questions sooner. Finally, I would leave a bigger time box for the powerful questions exercise. Or sub in a game about rule breaking and making similar to the children’s book “what would you do dear?” allowing for small group discussion around scenerios and then ask people to share a few insights afterwards.


What rules will you break next week?

What broken windows will you stop to fix?

What well worn paths will you collaboratively make into official roads?



One Response to “Rule breaker, rule maker, and not a rule follower”

  1. Calvert Says:

    Thanks for this informative post it is very helpful for me. In agile the team members have observed patterns in the way organizations adopt agile and more importantly, identified critical phases most companies traverse in moving toward Agility. During agile projects the whole team is responsible in managing the team and it is not just the project manager’s responsibility.

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