Byron's Babbles

Rule Follower Or Rule Breaker

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on June 10, 2022

Last night I was doing a kickoff event for month long set of professional development and training gatherings I am doing for a marquee client of mine. Part of this work will be done in person and part virtually so participants were sent a box with everything they need for the virtual portion. In the box we put a sheet explaining a few things that needed to be done and included this statement: “Please wait to peruse the items in the box.” I loved this statement that the person who is leading this project for the client used because it really invoked two behaviors, from two different kinds of people: rule followers and rule breakers. So, in a quick ice-breaker/get-to-know you activity I decided to find out who was who. Amazingly, my little research project came out pretty close to some research I found. About 14% of the participants answered my question of what in the box intrigued you the most with, “I’m a rule follower and can’t answer that.” To be clear, the research I referenced had five rules to follow and only 15% followed all five rules, but you get the point. Everyone else had some item to answer the question with. Now, let me say I’m not real concerned, but I’m always intrigued by people identifying themselves as rule followers. So, I decided to pursue this a little.

But, what I did find was that our willingness to follow rules is a valuable resource for society. We know that people will follow rules even when they don’t understand the purpose, but individuals are more likely to follow the rules when they believe the rule is being followed by others. This is why it is so important to in some way highlight or showcase rules being followed. I still find it fascinating that people often identify themselves as being either rule followers or rule breakers, and both with equal degrees of pride. Everyone knows people who have a strong inclination to follow whatever rules have been set up. Everyone also knows people whose tendency is to ignore rules. In reality we probably need both. The rule follower probably has a well ordered and planned approach to getting things done. If you need their help in a tight turnaround, you know you’ll be safe in their hands. On the other hand the rule breaker lives for the moment and takes things as they come. If you’re looking for a new approach or way of doing things, they will be up for the challenge. But their casual and unplanned manner might make you question their reliability. In reflection, I’m not sure it is fair to characterize as rule follower or rule breaker – it’s just two personality traits.

The key is to find a way to mix the two. If I might use a metaphor; these are like an emulsion. Emulsions a mixture of two things that would typically not be soluble or miscible. Food products are many time emulsions and turn out wonderful. Some of these foods come to mind: milk, mayonnaise, sausage, béarnaise and hollandaise sauces, and lunch meat. Therefore, if we have self-awareness it will help us to understand our core preferences, strengths and weaknesses, as well as how our styles may come across to others who are very different from us. This self-awareness gives us tremendous power to adapt our behaviors when necessary for the good of the team. If we take the time to build relationships with those we work with we will better understand and appreciate each other’s natural preferences. Ultimately we can become a more powerful team.


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