A Guide to Breaking All the Rules

At the end of the month, I’ll deliver a one-hour discussion on the book First Break All the Rules (1999, Marcus Buckingham).  I was going to wait to try out the material on the audience before I shared it with you, but then I thought: Why not experiment on the blog?  Isn’t that why you have a blog?  Why, yes.  Yes it is.


A Guide to Breaking All the Rules

First, the context.   First, Break All the Rules is the first in a series by various authors employed by Gallup, building on Gallup’s research into what measurable factors make some work groups or companies more successful than others.  I’ll admit to being a fan of the series, of Marcus Buckingham and of new Gallup author, Tom Rath.  I have read, shared, and trained others on the content in Now, Discover Your Strengths (2001), The One Thing You Need to Know (2005),  Strengths Finder 2.0 (2007), Strengths Based Leadership )2009), Go, Put Your Strengths to Work (2010), and other similar volumes.

In 2007, Buckingham split from Gallup to create his own company and has since produced a DVD titled Trombone Player Wanted, an excellent “jump-start your best life” sort of video.  You can tell, if you read his writings or watch his DVD, that Buckingham loves talking about people’s strengths, the habits and tendencies that make them excellent in their lives.  His enthusiasm for a life lived well easily rubs off.  Meanwhile, his partners at Gallup, with (before 2007) and without him since, always add a quantitative piece to the strengths story, luring you in with easily repeatable facts like only 17% of Americans say they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day (how sad!) or that a measly 1% of employees say they are engaged in their work if they say their leaders fail to make them hopeful for the organization’s future (ouch!).

I first read First, Break All the Rules in June 2005.  I was given the book by a friend who was given the book by our mutual friend who is a lover of books and good ideas (Hi, Terry!). In the book I found some hope that the monolithic nature of management could instead be varied, energetic, and hopeful.  The lesson I took away was that there was room for originality if only you would break the rules that everyone else was following.  I was game.

I was ready to read the book because I’d broken with the rules several years before.  I’ve blogged before about that rainy day in January 2003 when I reported to my cubicle at my engineering job, just like I did every winter day in the Pacific Northwest.  That day was memorable for me because that is the day I snapped out of my obedience for obedience sake and took control of my own life.  I decided to learn what I wanted to learn when I wanted to learn it and that decision changed the trajectory of my life and led me to:

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

One of the first things you read in First, Break All the Rules is that people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.  I had a great boss at the time, so I didn’t go to the first place people often go when they read that (i.e., find a new boss).  Instead, I began to wonder if there was a way to find out which bosses in the organization were following the rules and failing and which were breaking them and succeeding. (Yes, I am a do-gooder and these were my wandering thoughts.)  So, armed with that wonder, I kept reading and found within First, Break All the Rules Gallup’s wondrous  Q12 test.  Now, you can’t administer the test without permission, but you can springboard your thoughts off it as it is contained within the book, so I cheerfully jumped on the springboard.  One of the things I took away from the Q12 test was the value of paying attention to the details in the questions you ask.  Gallup didn’t ask “Do you have an opportunity to do what you do well?”  Instead the question focuses you on “Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day? Best every day is bounded and specific and exceptional and determined not by someone else, but only by me.  Do I think I have that opportunity (whatever that looks like to me) every day?  Wow!  Yes…maybe…yes?  Yes. 

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

Following Rule 2 has helped me create better questionnaires, interview better, and listen better to the details people offer in their stories.  When they talk about something they love, they are specific and bold.  When they talk to pass the time or please their boss they are often vague and generic.  Try it and you’ll see (and hear) the difference.

Rule 3 is an off-shoot of Rule 2.  One of the questions asks if your boss, or someone else, cares about you at work.  Notice the “or” statement. That’s where the power lies. 

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

If you’re not the type to make friends easily, then the best place to start is to find a mentor.   Mentors help balance out your sense of self when a boss becomes a challenge or the choice to change jobs gets stressful and overwhelming.  Gallup was right to measure having that someone.  We all need that someone.  I’ve been lucky enough over my career to have several people who took a personal interest in me, my success and my well-being.  I owe those people a lot.  If you don’t have those people yet, don’t worry.  You will.  And, if you can’t find them in your organization, and your boss doesn’t care either, then I’d send you down the same path Buckingham did in First, Break All the Rules.  Leave.  Find another job.  You’ll be happier after you do….

What’s next?

Join me back here on Friday morning (okay, late Thursday night) for another installment in A Guide to Breaking All the Rules.  Feedback is, as always, welcome.


3 thoughts on “A Guide to Breaking All the Rules”

  1. Pingback: Made you look « Engine For Change

  2. Pingback: A Guide to Breaking All the Rules (Part 2) « Engine For Change

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