“If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must.”
~Anne Lamott

I once told someone I was a rule-follower. Her response? “No one, upon meeting you, would ever take you to be a rule follower.”

I get that the first impression I offer is probably not of someone who only colors inside the lines, but those who know me well probably know that my ability to color outside the lines – and to challenge and maybe even break some rules – is an aptitude I’ve worked to build and strengthen.

Sometimes there are very good reasons for following the rules and obeying the orders you’ve been given. However, sometimes there are very good reasons for opening the one door in the castle you’ve been told not to touch. Thoughtful Leadership is about figuring out which option is best in each situation and about being able to play against your ingrained impulses to only do one or the other.

Effective leadership requires curiosity. What is behind that door? What will happen if we open it? If we go through it? Why have we been told not to?

There are rules that have been passed down in organizations that were created out of a need of the moment and that might not in any way pertain to the current situation. The mandate that all vendor invoices over $100 need to be approved by the director? It turns out that eight years ago there was a budget cut and a micromanaging director who questioned and inspected every invoice. And in our families, we pass down rules and ways of doing things as well. The family legend of always cutting the Sunday pot roast in half? Someone’s great-great-grandparent had too small an oven and too big a family.

We’re not saying, like Anne Lamott does, that you must go through every door in the castle that you’ve been told not to open. We are saying that questioning why you’ve been told not to open that door is probably a best practice and that going through that door might be exactly what you, your team, and your organization need.

Your job, as the leader, is to be curious, to be open, to be willing to enforce the rules that are needed in this moment, and to be willing to break the rules that are getting in the way.

When has going against what you’ve been told to do been the right leadership action? When was it a better choice to follow the rules?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

If you want someone to challenge you to curiosity, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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