Rule Maker, Breaker or Bender?


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What is it about “rules” that spawn an immediate response? Do you follow in lock step, bristle at the mere idea, immediately envision the best way to get around it or do you defiantly act to undermine it?

Rule maker, rule breaker, or rule bender? Which one are you?

According to Barbara Apple Sullivan, CEO of a NYC strategies and communications firm, rule breaking for women is essential for their business success. She is an inveterate coupon clipper and can accurately predict whether an outdated coupon will be accepted by a cashier. Invariably male cashiers will take the coupons while their female counterparts will not. In her many years of experience as a manager, Ms. Sullivan states that, “Women take action according to the letter of the law, while men are more inclined to flout rules to be true to the spirit of the law. Women are rule followers and perfectionists. They want to be right.” Furthermore, she goes on to state that, “Women dot I’s and cross T’s, but that is not always the way to win a war that’s being fought in a world of masculine values.”

How accurate is this anecdotal research on the part of Ms. Sullivan? Is it sexist, harsh, or exactly what you know to be true? When I read her “theory”, my first inclination was to reject it as a silly premise, but then I began to do a rapid review of people with whom I have worked over the years. Age has a lot to do with it, and of course, the position held by the person making the determination, but overall, more than not, I would have to agree with the gender behavior she describes. In fact, even reflecting back on my own responses, I know that I have made decisions based on adherence to rules and/or guidelines. Were they set in stone? What was the purpose and potential impact? There was no circumstance where anarchy was in the offing, but too often, adhering strictly to them was pre-programmed on my part. On the other hand, when confronted with rules that affect me, I am most inclined to evaluate their relevance and proceed to make my own decision.

Overall, sexist generalizations or not, women who want to be leaders may best begin by recognizing that sometimes it is not only OK to bend or break the rules, it is critical to your professional success!

• Are you a rule maker, rule breaker or rule bender? • Recall a recent event that could have had a different result • What’s one “rule” you can bend or break without affecting others adversely? • Do it! ©2015 Maureen Weisner

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