A Guide to Breaking All the Rules (Part 2)

Last week I encouraged you to break all the rules by following three new rules (yes, I see the humor in that hypocrisy.  I hope you do too.)  Today, we’ll continue our journey of replacement rules with some more.

Rule 4: Let your words reflect the honor in every role performed to excellence. 

This rule requires two stories.

The first centers around the “only” conversations that you might often hear in your organization.  You know the conversations: “He’s only a technician.” or “She’s had a good career, but she’s only a secretary.”  These conversations disgust me.  They disgust me because careers–and the human beings that have them–shouldn’t be judged almost solely against a measuring stick of their rank in an organization.  There are so many more facets of a career well-done that matter more.  I’ve even heard people talking down themselves, saying things like, “I may only be a mechanic, but…”  Don’t buy into that language.  Don’t use it against others or against yourself.

The second story describes how you can observe the difference in dignity when a role is performed to excellence.  Marcus Buckingham covers that well in First, Break All the Rules, introducing us to the concept by sharing the examples of a machinist, a grocery store clerk, and a manager:

You are the machinist who bothers to write down all the little hints and tips you picked up so that you can present them as an informal manual to apprentice machinists just learning their craft.  You are the grocery store clerk who tells the customer that the grapefruit are in aisle five but who then walks her to aisle five, explaining that the grapefruit are always stocked from the back to the front. “If you like your grapefruit really firm,” you say, “pick one from the front.”  You are the manager who so loves your work that you get tears in your eyes when asked to describe how you helped so many of your people succeed.”

He continues (and this part is highlighted in my copy of the book),

Whatever your role, at the summit of this mountain you are good at what you do, you know the fundamental purpose of your work, and you are always looking for better ways to fulfill that mission.  You are fully engaged.

From that, this follows: Rule 5: Seek your mountain summit instead of chasing someone’s expectations for you.

No one thinks about your career, your happiness, your challenges, and your well-being as much as you.  Therefore, others can give you their perception of how you are doing, but they can’t crawl inside your head and live there with you.  Don’t let others lead you to chase higher rungs on the ladder, or new, check-the-box job switches, or money just for the sake of the ladder, the switch, or the money. But, you may be thinking, “How do I not be led by others to do something that isn’t the right role for me?”

Rule 6: Know your strengths and cultivate them.

A large portion of First, Break All the Rules is devoted to introducing readers to the then developing Gallup concepts of talents (later, strengths).  These portions of the book are interesting, but appear antiquated in contrast to the fully developed detail within Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and online assessment.  Where Buckingham starts the conversation about selecting for talent and hints at different talent attributes you might look for in others (and yourself too), he doesn’t yet have the rich vocabulary that he would start to share in Now, Discover Your Strengths and continue to develop in later books.  When I read First, Break All the Rules in June 2005, I only had to wait one month (I probably got a bit distracted by the short Pacific Northwest summer) to read Now, Discover Your Strengths and take the StrengthsFinder 1.0 assessment.  Combining the insights of First,… and Now,… I committed myself to looking for opportunities to leverage my newly named strengths.  That point was another turning point in the trajectory of my life.  Since then I’ve had multiple opportunities to leverage and develop my strengths and I even doubled down in 2009 with the development of an in-house strengths training program at my day job.  I blogged about that program and developing your strengths in Supercharge Your Strengths,  You, We Are Strong, Be Your Sun, Partnership, and Strategy for Strengths.  I could talk about strengths for days.  Writing this blog is one way I play to my strengths.  I started the blog so I could maximize the learning I was strategically arranging for others so they could activate themselves effectively.  Every time I sit down to write, I’m immediately energized.  It’s an outstanding feeling.  I hope you invest in your strengths and find something equally as invigorating for you.

That’s where I’ll end this two part discussion of First, Break All the Rules.  To recap:

Rule 1: Stop waiting to learn when others deliver it. Take yourself to the learning you want.

Rule 2: Pay attention to the details in questions. They matter the most.

Rule 3: Find someone at work, besides (or in addition to) your boss who cares about you.

Rule 4: Let your words reflect the honor in every role performed to excellence.

Rule 5: Seek your mountain summit instead of chasing someone’s expectations for you.

Rule 6: Know your strengths and cultivate them.

Bonus – Rule 7: Complete the Strengths Interview in Chapter 7 (page 225 in the hardcover).  If you’re a boss, complete the Strengths Interview with each of your employees at least once.  If you’re an employee, complete the Strengths Interview with your boss as soon as you can, or fill it out and give it to your boss.  It just might make a big difference.  (It did for me.)

1 thought on “A Guide to Breaking All the Rules (Part 2)”

  1. Thanks for the great book review. Employee engagement is a topic I am extremely passionate about and I “feel strongest” when I get to share that passion with the people in the organization.

    You could have the LEANest, best managed organization and it will produce nothing if the people aren’t engaged.

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