How Great Leaders Supercharge Their Leadership By Breaking The Rules
The greatest leaders in the world differ in many respects — different sexes, races, ages, and cultures, different styles, different goals — but among the things they all share is a willingness to break the rules. That said, how do great leaders supercharge their leadership by breaking the rules?
If you’re working in a lead position then you’re most definitely a flag bearer of leadership.
But despite being hierarchically bestowed, people often don’t exhibit true leadership qualities. Leaders who influence their followers to achieve greatness share a few similar characteristics. One of those characteristics is no fear of bending or breaking the rules for achieving greatness.
A good leader doesn’t hesitate to challenge the status quo.
In fact, that is what has propelled them to sustain leadership status for a longer period of time. Sticking to the tried and tested approach might deliver expected results or in a fast-paced environment, it might not yield anything. And as a leader, you don’t want that.
As leaders, it is important for us to help those we lead see that rules sometimes need to be broken.
We owe our people clarity about why a rule exists and why following it matters. That is the best way to increase the likelihood of rules being followed when they should be followed and broken for the right reasons. This type of clarity will help them see when following a rule would be contrary to its intent.
You want to achieve something that others have not. For that, you will have to ditch the traditional mindset and act as a rule breaker!
Actually, being a leader is not easy. There are, probably, thousands of ‘rules’ already out there. That being said, successful and influential leaders know that it is necessary to break the conventional leadership rules to supercharge their leadership. If you’re willing to learn more about how to bend and break the rules, you knocked at the right door!
Anti-Rule #1: Play With Fire
As you move towards your goals and purpose, the road will get cloudy. Situations you didn’t foresee will arise. You won’t know what the next step will be. It’s risky at times but you know what needs to be done. And where your team needs to go. But you must be willing to step forward into the unknown.
Real leaders, not managers, are looking for the next breakthrough. Keeping an eye out for the next mountain to summit.
Big risks require nerves of steel, so it takes a special kind of person to look down into the yawning chasm of possible defeat and jump across it. Yes, the future of work is full of opportunities. But people won’t be able to take advantage of those opportunities if they don’t take risks. How things have always been done simply won’t work in the future. Being prepared for the possibility of failure is essential, but if you make smart choices, the odds of success will be in your favor. If you listen and do your research to have the evidence you need, taking a risk might just pay off.
If you don’t take risks, you simply stand still and run flat.
Some of the risks you take may seem overwhelming initially, but once you’ve taken that risk and you’ve lived to see the result, you realize that what you actually did will give you the energy to continue to take risks. Being a risk taker doesn’t necessarily mean you are the risk taker extraordinaire, but you have an ability to embrace your fears, move through them and take the next step to take the risk.
Business changes quickly, and leaders are often called upon to make decisions and find effective and innovative solutions to problems.
Great leaders recognize that in order to be innovative, they will need to be able to take risks. Due to the large number of potentially risky situations leaders come across, it is important to hone risk-taking skills to maximize benefits and prevent costly mistakes. Leaders skilled in this competency have the willingness to take sound, calculated risks based on good judgment in situations where the outcome is uncertain.
Risk-takers offer another advantage necessary for growth and continued success: creativity.
With the rush of millennial employees to the workforce, creativity is being expressed through nontraditional techniques as the most tech-savvy generation paves the way. Companies need fire starters — employees who are willing to avoid the normal courses of action to arrive at a new way of thinking and success. Those confined to standard methods will hardly see the same growth as those willing to think and operate outside the box.
Risk-taking encourages transparency, ownership, and accountability.
Don’t let your employees fall into the trap of just fulfilling duties and punching a timecard. Encourage each and every member of your team to think creatively and share their ideas with others. When you reward risk-taking, employees will take accountability for both the company’s successes and failures, ultimately helping your organization achieve its key results.
Anti-Rule #2: Get Your Hands Dirty
A common misconception about leadership is that it is simply brainstorming, sitting in meetings, and talking about what should be done with others in authority. While this may be what some in leadership roles do, the greatest of leaders don’t just communicate and allow things to passively occur…they act.
Great leaders aren’t only gathered around the conference tables of war rooms, but they’re also seen in the trenches.
Great leaders are not just fantastic when in passive situations, but are also actively involved. Good leaders don’t just passively decide, they actively implement decisions. They don’t just passively ideate, they actively execute ideas. Poor leaders choose to walk down a path, and then never set foot on the path chosen.
The difference between a good leader and a great leader comes down to their ability to lead by example.
Leaders shouldn’t find themselves behind a desk all day; they should be with their team, supporting them in their daily tasks. Leaders should not be above getting their hands dirty. This generates a strong work ethic, something the team will respect and that will establish a standard going forward. Employees deserve this kind of commitment from their leaders.
The most hands-on leader doesn’t mind getting their hands dirty in full view of those around them.
By staying active and involved, and allowing others to see your creativity and innovation, you will make a real impact on those around you. In addition, a hands-on leader should be authentic and approachable with everyone they meet. Such a leader allows their colleagues into their world — engendering greater trust and legitimacy with all they work with — even rebuilding trust if there was none to start with.
Employees need to know their leaders are prepared to enter the trenches with them in order to deal with problems as well as enjoy the successes.
Employees sometimes feel that managers aren’t interested in what front-line workers hear from the customers every day. Leaders’ willingness to take off their gloves and get their hands dirty with the reality of the business will demonstrate their commitment to understanding the workplace, future growth and respect for their work force and their customers.
The leaders who got their hands dirty exercise humility and build committed teams.
They put the needs of the group ahead of their own needs and build units which not only respect each other’s roles, but also are willing to put aside those roles for the good of the team and the mission. It is more important for a leader to demonstrate humility and get their hands dirty than it is to demonstrate rank. We form committed teams and build a strong culture with high morale when we are willing to put aside our assigned roles and do some of the dirty work alongside our team.
Anti-Rule #3: Break The Know It All Wall
Yes, you are the leader and this might make you believe that you know everything. You are the one who’s calling the shots. You think of yourself as the smartest person in the room and conventional wisdom backs you up too. That does not mean that you can be right all the time.
That’s a quite common mistake because people think if they are leaders — they have to be better than anyone on their team.
But that’s not true at all. Yes, you have to be smart but after all — you can’t know everything. And if your team has smart people, and sometimes who are smarter than you — that’s a good thing. You can get smarter in the process, and you will have all the benefits of a great, smart team. Thinking that you need to drive every idea for a team is not only unrealistic but exhausting.
As a leader, one of the most crucial skills is having the ability to admit you might not know the answer to every question.
It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know“. It is also important to delegate decision making with comments such as, “Let me know what you think, I trust your judgment.” As much as people love someone they can rely on for guidance, no one likes a know it all person. Listen more than you speak. Leaders who show some vulnerability are more authentic and approachable to their team. Employees will want to provide feedback and share ideas, because they know it will not fall on deaf ears. In the end, you have a more engaged and productive team, who feel valued and appreciated.
Leaders often feel pressure to have the answer to every question. But no one is an expert in everything — not even you.
When leaders accept that their role is not about having all the answers but rather to lead the people in the room to find the best solution, a few things happen. They start to ask more questions, rise above the technical and see things from a broader, more expansive perspective. In a world of unprecedented advancements in technology and new players entering the market at a disruptive pace — it is extremely difficult for one person to keep tabs on all that is happening.
Most people feel the need to be right all the time but what they fail to realize is that they’re probably wrong most of the time.
As a leader, one of the most crucial skills is having the ability to admit you might not know the answer to every question (you’re not even expected to!) and also recognize that it’s important not to be the smartest person in the room. What I mean by that is, you’d still want to learn and be an expert in your field but the best leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than them and have complementary skills to theirs.
A leader who answers every question can shift their team into constant execution mode, killing new ideas before they can emerge.
Pausing to open space for potential solutions and to explore ideas provides people at every level the ability to assess multiple courses of action. The team can assess existing and new approaches to prioritize and initiate the best approach (not just the one that’s familiar). Expanding the decision-making organization teaches teammates how priorities and decisions are made. The process also often results in broader buy-in because people feel ownership as a result of this more collaborative approach.
Anti-Rule #4: Don't Fake Yourself
Whatever it takes, be honest and true to your word. This is pretty obvious, but still — you can’t break this rule because it is one of the essential qualities of a good leader. Establish trust with your team with lucidity. Don’t lie to them. Don’t hide facts from them. And, in turn, they will do the same for you.
Every leadership journey has to start with self-awareness.
Knowing who you are, what your management style is, what motivates you, how your team experience you, what your potential is, where your weaknesses are, and what kind of environment you create for your team each day, are all fundamental to becoming a leader who others will be inspired to follow. However, gaining a clear-eyed view of who you are as a leader is only the beginning of something special.
People become leaders in different ways: some are elected, others are appointed, still others become leaders without ever having the title.
Regardless of how you become a leader, you can’t fake leadership. Sure, there are people who do and some even get away with it for a while, but at some point, usually not too far down the road, people clue into the false intentions and the phony front and quit listening to or following the “leader”. Leaders live and work in ways that let them gain the trust of their people. They also trust their people; trust goes two ways. Ultimately, you cannot fake trust, you have to earn it, and you earn it by being genuine and real.
One of the biggest things people misunderstand about authenticity is that it’s not about doing or saying whatever you want without consequence. That’s not authenticity. That’s radical individualism.
It’s when we aren’t clear on what really matters to us, the winds of corporate politics and bureaucracy can blow us far off course until we wake up one day and wonder how we became a person we don’t even recognize anymore. Without committing to authenticity, you can easily fall into a pattern of faking it so much that you lose any self of who you really are. I believe this is a major contributor to things like burnout and midlife crises.
The ability to be upfront about your weaknesses is a strength.
The best leaders are vulnerable and honest about how they feel, what they think, and what they want, and that’s how they connect with their people. If you’re hiding your true self from your team, no one will be able to make a strong connection to you and your goals. Being vulnerable and open will get you the support you need to lead others to greatness.
People respond to leaders who are authentic and genuine.
Authentic leaders go much deeper than their life story, what they have been through, or the issues they have. They embrace their true self and their ethical values along with their weaknesses and use their strengths to their advantage without worrying about what others think. They speak from their heart with passion, have a committed point of view, and are open and willing to articulate their ideas without any game-playing or hidden agendas.
Anti-Rule #5: Keep Your Mind Open
In the world of the open-minded leader, there is only “what works” and “what doesn’t work”, rather than what is right or wrong. We live in a world of both entrenched and enlightened values at times. Part of being open-minded is being able to see another’s point of view and evaluating not whether it is right or wrong, but whether it works or not.
Our traditional view of leadership stresses forcefulness, courage and risk-taking.
But as important as these ideas are, when coupled with closed-mindedness, intolerance of dissent and groupthink they can lead to organizational ruin. Open-mindedness is foundational to both good decision-making and organization-wide engagement. We need to do more to value, select for and develop open-mindedness, for it is the dynamic balance between forceful action and open-mindedness that defines outstanding leadership.
Let’s be honest with one another here. We can all have closed minds on certain subjects, and that is OK.
Being open-minded can be challenging. We grow up and develop a set of beliefs and values and, throughout our lives, we tend to surround ourselves with people who share the same values and beliefs. To give some context, consider this scenario when you are asking for feedback on ‘how’ to carry out a certain process from your team. You just need to remember they are likely more involved than you with the day to day task. Perhaps their suggestions and ideas are worth exploring further instead of talking over them and powering on.
Closed-minded people are more interested in proving themselves right than in getting the best outcome.
They want to show you where you’re wrong without understanding where you’re coming from. Open-minded people see disagreement as a thoughtful means to expand their knowledge. They don’t get angry or upset at questions; rather, they want to identify where the disagreement lies so they can correct their misperceptions. They realize that being right means changing their minds when someone else knows something they don’t.
Your open mind can be a vital, endlessly rewarding part of how you interpret and engage in the world.
Your open mind can be a deeply embedded part of your value system. A positive driving force behind your actions, and a hallmark of what gives you a sense of purpose. It can play a critical role in your professional growth, leadership potential and career success satisfaction. Also, it can help you refrain from needing to control everything in your world. It can position you to see and relish the strengths and potential in others without feeling threatened. Without question, it can be positively infectious and help inspire others to operate with an open mind as well.
Being an open minded leader makes great sense.
Being open-minded can help you grow as a person because it’s hard to keep learning when you surround yourself with the same old ideas; either yours or those of similar people around you. It’s really difficult to grow if you practice a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ or ‘not invented here’ philosophy. Understand that having an open mind does not mean you have to implement every idea or suggestion that comes you way. Just providing staff the opportunity to be heard without judgment can go a long way to drive employee engagement and morale.
Anti-Rule #6: Don't Treat People The Same
We all tend to believe that fairness means treating everyone the same. But people all have different strengths and weaknesses and challenges as individuals — we are all different. Of course, it’s important to avoid favoritism. But part of leadership is recognizing each person’s motivation, style, and way of thinking, then working to help them become the best possible version of who they already are.
If you judge everyone by the same yardstick and think that is fair then you need to change your mindset.
Every person is different and has different strengths and weaknesses. They might be dealing with different challenges. How can you treat everyone equally? You cannot. As a leader, you need to treat each person differently because they have different motivations, work style and mindset. Instead of comparing them with others, you should encourage them to become a better version of themselves.
Especially nowadays, when diversity and equality are almost never out of our sight, you should not treat everyone on your team the same.
Every human being is unique. Every person on your team is unique. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Use this information to help them evolve and become the better versions of themselves. But don’t fall into favoritism –find a unique approach to each team member and don’t put one above the other.
We’ve got to get over the notion that we can treat people the same way. We can’t. Life doesn’t work that way. And, people don’t want to be treated the same way.
For example, only few members of your team would feel satisfied with the recognition they receive. The others may feel put out or like their efforts weren’t recognized. Not because they weren’t but because you didn’t take the time to know how they would respond to your praise. So, instead of treating people the same, we need to treat people fairly. Give praise. But look to them for the way they want to be praised.
To treat every person on your team the same dishonors them by ignoring the reality of their uniqueness.
When you consider all of the variables, the people on your team are very different. There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals. Instead of trying to be fair by treating everyone the same, try treating people equitably and ethically given the particular situation. Let’s drill into that a bit more. Treating people equitably means being impartial, unbiased, and even-handed in your dealings with others. Treating people ethically means you hold them, and yourself, to the principles, standards, rules, or policies of right conduct.
The golden rule states you should treat people how you would like to be treated. The golden rule is wrong.
If everyone has separate goals and desires (which they do) why should you assume something that makes you happy will give others the same pleasure? The new rule you should follow is the platinum rule: treat others how they would like to be treated. As a leader, you must talk to your employees to understand what they want — and don’t want. You need to understand what is important and valuable to each of your reports.
Anti-Rule #7: Fix It Even If It's Not Broken
If you want to maintain the status quo and keep plodding along the well-worn path, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it‘ belongs to you. Fixing things that aren’t broken is another way to say innovation, creativity, finding new solutions, always looking for a better way. Take Steve Jobs — he created products that we didn’t know we needed until they were in our hands. Technology wasn’t broken, but he fixed it anyway.
Good leaders take a stand against the status quo. Instead of sitting back, they will act proactively. You will never find a good leader following a well-trodden path.
If you believe in the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, you will never be able to achieve something big. If you follow this approach, you are closing the doors to creativity and innovation. This will prevent you from finding new solutions. You are not a system administrator. If something’s working — you still have to find ways to improve or upgrade it. Only through constant craving for bettering yourself, your team and whatever it is you do, you can become a truly great leader.
It’s understandable that business leaders might hesitate to shake things up when the company is doing well.
Yet, there’s no better time to transform a business or try something new. If it doesn’t work out you pull the plug; when things are going well you can afford to experiment and fail. And try again. When you’re up against the wall it’s do or die. To be able to transform preemptively, leaders need to anticipate change by continually exploring new options.
Instead of poo-pooing change, leaders should embrace it.
Fear of change is a debilitating issue for any leader; and it can spell doom for your company if these managers are near the top of the organizational chart. Believing that if it an’t broke don’t fix it means we’re not going to even think about improvements, tweaks, alternatives, etc. until we can declare something is broken. The problem for business, of course, is by the time something is indeed broken, it’s often too late to fix.
It’s not just the technology. This anti-rule applies to leadership also.
Innovative companies believe in changing leadership too after a few years even it isn’t broke….I mean Steve Ballmer was doing fine…..nothing broken…but Microsoft still thought of fixing it by bringing in Satya Nadella. Imagine if companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and likes of it believed in not disrupting status quo…we probably would have continued to call our laptops as mobile devices…. after all, laptops were first built keeping mobility in consideration as desktops couldn’t be carried around!
Change helps the organization adapt to new markets and environments. And leaders of these organizations need to recognize what lies ahead in their industry.
Sheer hard work and know-how are not enough to be successful at this. A leader must have the vision and creativity to anticipate change. On top of that, these leaders need to know how to inspire folks around them to do the same. In companies like Google, they want everyone in the organization focused on working on new projects, ideas, and products. They encourage, if not require, each employee to spend time on a side project or to work on an idea outside of their actual work. This paved the way for many of the Google products we use today, like GMail.
Whether you are a leader at work, in your community, or anywhere else, take the time to step back and examine the rules that exist. Focus on creating clarity for those you lead to help them know when they should break a rule. Most importantly, what are you willing to do about the ones that need changing?
While great leaders are disruptive, good ones play by the rules. Great leaders break existing rules and set new ones.
Leaders move from being good to becoming great when they depart from the norm and try a new path. Leaders are primarily called to do one of two things; either lead an organization or nation out of difficulty into stability or lead it to greater prosperity in times of stability. Doing either requires the disruption of the norm.
When leaders break rules, they set their people free. When leaders break rules, they bring the impossible within reach.
When leaders break rules, they set others’ imagination afire. For over 4,000 years, it was believed that no human being could complete the one-mile race under four minutes. But Roger Bannister, then an Oxford University medical student, broke that rule on May 6, 1954, finishing the race in three minutes 59.4 seconds. When leaders break records, they set others free and take them into a new realm.
Only those who break rules exceed boundaries and make lasting impressions because they become pathfinders. Are you one of them?
What rules have you created that could create ethical dilemmas for those you lead? Have you considered the relationship between rules and values — both on an organizational and individual level? How have you reacted when breaking a rule has exposed inconsistencies between the rule and your values? Feel free to share your own leadership experience in the comments below!