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How to Break All the Rules

How to Break All the Rules

How to Break All the Rules

    Rules, they say, are meant to be broken. Not all the time, of course — we are, after all, trying to have a society here. But while rules help, most of the time, to create an orderly and well-regulated society, sometimes their lack of flexibility hinders our creativity, and thus our ability to solve the problems that confront us.

    Months ago, I wrote a post about improvisation advising readers to “Learn the rules, so you can break them.” Too often, people think that the breakability of rules means that they should be broken, early and often — and if that’s the case, it’s not worth bothering to learn them at all.

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    That’s not the case; in fact, it’s a pretty simple matter to tell the consistent rule-breaking of the ignorant and inexperienced from the proficient rule-breaking of the master. The master’s rule-breaking gains strength from her or his understanding of what the rules do, how they work, and why they are, most of the time, crucial.

    There are, one could say, rules for rule-breaking, and it is these rules (along with all the others) that the lasy rule-breaker doesn’t know or understand. Here’s an example:

    • Break the rules as a last resort. Whether you’re talking about writing and grammar, music composition, artistic composition, marketing, business management, or anything else, the rules that people usually follow exist for a good reason: most of the time, they work. Stepping outside the rules requires more energy, more forethought, more planning, and more creativity — in short, more work — and effective writers, composers, marketers, business people, and people from every other walk of life don’t lightly waste their efforts fixing what already works well. Rule-breaking is the step you turn to when the rules fail to work.
    • Rule-breaking gains its power from the strength of rules, not their weakness. The ability of the great rule-breakers to shock and amaze us — from Van Gogh to Philip Roth to Ron Paul to Steve jobs — relies on the expectations the rules create. Constant rule-breaking creates the expectation of constant rule-breaking, which pretty soon loses its appeal. Master rule-breakers walk a narrow line between genius and incoherence; inexpert rule-breakers are usually simply incoherent.
    • For every broken rule there are a dozen unbroken ones. Or a hundred, or a thousand. The ratio doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that the best rule-breakers follow almost all the rules. Consider the rules of grammar and style: almost all great writers know the value of simple sentences, a lack of unnecessary verbiage, and adherence to basic rules of grammar — and their writing is generally built around those principles, because to ignore them is to create a morass of incomprehensible gibberish. A word salad, if you will: throw everything in a bowl, toss it around a little, and slop it onto your plate.
    • For every broken rule, there is a reason. The inexperienced rule-breaker breaks the rules because s/he doesn’t know any better. The master rule-breaker breaks the rules because, after careful consideration, s/he has decided that the most effective and meaningful way to get something done was to break a rule. They have an explanation for every single step outside the accepted boundaries of the “right and proper”.
    • Accept the consequences. When called on the carpet to defend his or her choices, the ignorant rule-breaker is defensive and feels put upon. S/he tries to wriggle out of the consequences, seeing them as “The Man’s” effort to keep her or him down. The master, on the other hand, embraces the consequences, knowing that s/he was right to make the decisions s/he made — or that, if those decisions turned out to be wrong, that s/he made them in good faith and for the right reasons.

    There’s a scene in Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard that sums up perfectly this approach to the rules. Rabo Karabekian, an artist reknowned for his giant canvases covered with single colors of household latex paint applied with a roller, is talking with his friend Slazinger in his studio:

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    “Tell me, Rabo–” said Slazinger, “if I put on that same paint with the same roller, would the picture still be a Karabekian?”

    “Absolutely,” I said, “provided you have in reserve what Karabekian has in reserve.”

    “Like what?” he said.

    “Like this,” I said. There was dust in a pothole in the floor, and I picked up some of it on the balls of both my thumbs. Working both thumbs simultaneously, I sketched a caricature of Slazinger’s face on the canvas in thirty seconds.

    “Jesus!” he said. “I had no idea you could draw like that!”

    “You’re looking at a man who has options,” I said.

    For the “wild child” who just can’t be bothered to learn the rules, because they were meant to be broken anyway and because his or her creative spirit is too strong to be held down by rules, man, there are no options. There is only a string of broken rules and all the misunderstanding, chaos, and incoherence that goes along with them. The master, though, knows that the rules are not only options, but usually the best options. And when they aren’t, s/he knows. S/he has in reserve what Karabekian has in reserve: true mastery.

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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

    5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

    It takes great leadership skills to build great teams.

    The best leaders have distinctive leadership styles and are not afraid to make the difficult decisions. They course-correct when mistakes happen, manage the egos of team members and set performance standards that are constantly being met and improved upon.

    With a population of more than 327 million, there are literally scores of leadership styles in the world today. In this article, I will talk about the most common leadership styles and how you can determine which works best for you.

    5 Types of Leadership Styles

    I will focus on 5 common styles that I’ve encountered in my career: democratic, autocratic, transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership.

    The Democratic Style

    The democratic style seeks collaboration and consensus. Team members are a part of decision-making processes and communication flows up, down and across the organizational chart.

    The democratic style is collaborative. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is an example of a leader who appears to have a democratic leadership style.

      The Autocratic Style

      The autocratic style, on the other hand, centers the preferences, comfort and direction of the organization’s leader. In many instances, the leader makes decisions without soliciting agreement or input from their team.

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      The autocratic style is not appropriate in all situations at all times, but it can be especially useful in certain careers, such as military service, and in certain instances, such as times of crisis. Steve Jobs was said to have had an autocratic leadership style.

      While the democratic style seeks consensus, the autocratic style is less interested in consensus and more interested in adherence to orders. The latter advises what needs to be done and expects close adherence to orders.

        The Transformational Style

        Transformational leaders drive change. They are either brought into organizations to turn things around, restore profitability or improve the culture.

        Alternatively, transformational leaders may have a vision for what customers, stakeholders or constituents may need in the future and work to achieve those goals. They are change agents who are focused on the future.

        Examples of transformational leader are Oprah and Robert C. Smith, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has offered to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

          The Transactional Style

          Transactional leaders further the immediate agenda. They are concerned about accomplishing a task and doing what they’ve said they’d do. They are less interested in changing the status quo and more focused on ensuring that people do the specific task they have been hired to do.

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          The transactional leadership style is centered on short-term planning. This style can stifle creativity and keep employees stuck in their present roles.

          The Laissez-Faire Style

          The fifth common leadership style is laissez-faire, where team members are invited to help lead the organization.

          In companies with a laissez-faire leadership style, the management structure tends to be flat, meaning it lacks hierarchy. With laissez-faire leadership, team members might wonder who the final decision maker is or can complain about a lack of leadership, which can translate to lack of direction.

          Which Leadership Style do You Practice?

          You can learn a lot about your leadership style by observing your family of origin and your formative working experiences.

          Whether you realize it, from the time you were born up until the time you went to school, you were receiving information on how to lead yourself and others. From the way your parents and siblings interacted with one another, to unspoken and spoken communication norms, you were a sponge for learning what constitutes leadership.

          The same is true of our formative work experiences. When I started my communications career, I worked for a faith-based organization and then a labor union. The style of communication varied from one organization to the other. The leadership required to be successful in each organization was also miles apart. At Lutheran social services, we used language such as “supporting people in need.” At the labor union, we used language such as “supporting the leadership of workers” as they fought for what they needed.

          Many in the media were more than happy to accept my pitch calls when I worked for the faith-based organization, but the same was not true when I worked for a labor union. The quest for media attention that was fair and balanced became more difficult and my approach and style changed from being light-hearted to being more direct with the labor union.

          I didn’t realize the impact those experiences had on how I thought about my leadership until much later in my career.

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          In my early experience, it was not uncommon for team members to have direct, brash and tough conversations with one another as a matter of course. It was the norm, not the exception. I learned to challenge people, boldly state my desires and preferences, and give tough feedback, but I didn’t account for the actions of others fit for me, as a black woman. I didn’t account for gender biases and racial biases.

          What worked well for my white male bosses, did not work well for me as an African American woman. People experienced my directness as being rude and insensitive. While I needed to be more forceful in advancing the organization’s agenda when I worked for labor, that style did not bode well for faith-based social justice organizations who wanted to use the love of Christ to challenge injustice.

          Whereas I received feedback that I needed to develop more gravitas in the workplace when I worked for labor, when I worked for other organizations after the labor union, I was often told to dial it back. This taught me two important lessons about leadership:

          1. Context Matters

          Your leadership style must adjust to each workplace you are employed. The challenges and norms of an organization will shape your leadership style significantly.

          2. Not All Leadership Styles Are Appropriate for the Teams You’re Leading

          When I worked on political campaigns, we worked nonstop. We started at dawn and worked late into the evening. I couldn’t expect that level of round-the-clock work for people at the average nonprofit. Not only couldn’t I expect it, it was actually unhealthy. My habit of consistently waking up at 4 am to work was profoundly unhealthy for me and harmful for the teams I was leading.

          As life coach and spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant has said,

          “We learn a lot from what is seen, sensed and shared.”

          The message I was sending to my team was ‘I will value you if you work the way that I work, and if you respond to my 4 am, 5 am and 6 am emails.’ I was essentially telling my employees that I expect you to follow my process and practice.

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          As I advanced in my career and began managing more people, I questioned everything I thought I knew about leadership. It was tough. What worked for me in one professional setting did not work in other settings. What worked at one phase of my life didn’t necessarily serve me at later stages.

          When I began managing millennials, I learned that while committed to the work, they had active interests and passions outside of the office. They were not willing to abandon their lives and happiness for the work, regardless of how fulfilling it might have been.

          The Way Forward

          To be an effective leader, you must know yourself incredibly well. You must be self-reflective and also receptive to feedback.

          As fellow Lifehack contributor Mike Bundrant wrote in the article 10 Essential Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader:

          “Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves…They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.”

          The way to determine your leadership style is to get to know yourself and to be mindful of the feedback you receive from others. Think about the leadership lessons that were seen, sensed and shared in your family of origin. Then think about what feels right for you. Where do you gravitate and what do you tend to avoid in the context of leadership styles?

          If you are really stuck, think about using a personality assessment to shed light on your work patterns and preferences.

          Finally, the path for determining your leadership style is to think about not only what you need, or what your company values, but also what your team needs. They will give you cues on what works for them and you need to respond accordingly.

          Leadership requires flexibility and attentiveness. Contrary to unrealistic notions of leadership, being a leader is less about being served and more about being of service.

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          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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