3 ways knowing how to break the rules makes you a better leader
Friday, June 07, 2019
The best part of any ethics class I teach — for me at least — is telling the students to try to get away with something. The assignment asks them to pick an ethical dilemma previously presented by one of their classmates and then, in as much detail as possible, explain how they would work around the rules to accomplish the desired, unethical outcome.
From long lunches and unwarranted overtime to bullying and harassment, they find creative ways to get away with (at the very least) unethical activities. While the activities vary, there is one thing that is consistent at every school and in any class within which this is assigned: my best students are also the best at breaking the rules.
Here are three ways knowing how to break the rules also makes you a better leader.
Now you see me
The most basic and important way knowing how to break the rules can help with leadership is the increased perspective. Whether in HR, legal or accounting, leaders who can consider not just how someone got away with something but why they even tried, are better at understanding and relating to employees.
Instead of getting stuck on the following the rules and wondering how an employee could have misunderstood it, these leaders look at the variety of scenarios that would account for why the employee chose to avoid, work around or break the rules.
Doing so not only improves their perspective, it also puts them in a better position to address the employee, the problem and the solution.
Elephants in the room
Recently, I listened to a podcast about the Loomis Fargo robbery. A consistent theme on the podcast and coverage of the heist was that employees constantly joked about robbing Loomis Fargo. In today’s HR-speak: it was just part of the culture.
Leaders that have an eye for getting away with things may have seen this as a sign of something to come.
In other words, leaders who can see the weaknesses in the system from the perspective of a rule breaker are better positioned to understand the difference between a single issue and a systemic problem. They can notice patterns, significant issues or lower-priority challenges for what they are and then act or direct action accordingly.
Finally, leaders who can channel the Dark Side can clearly see the value of their leaders and team members.
In addition to a superhero ability to understand a variety of employee perspectives and identify and prioritize possible issues, leaders who know how to get away with things are also better positioned to appreciate the skills, knowledge and perspective of their co-workers and subordinates.
Like taking the red pill in "The Matrix," once a leader has seen the other side of the story, and understands there are always gray areas and seemingly rational reasons employees do unethical things, it is increasingly difficult to "unsee" these possibilities.
Thus, in a bizarre but positive reinforcement cycle, leaders that embrace this broader perspective will continue to strengthen that muscle and become better and better at identifying and handling potential issues.
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