3 Rules for Rule-Breakers

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“You can’t leave your career when you’re at your height—it will derail you.”

That was the commonly accepted belief and unwritten rule of career advancement in the company where Holly Meidl worked early in her career. A rising star in the insurance industry, she was told, ‘‘You’ll never be able to return to working in a role that’s significant or make a major impact,’” recalls Meidl.

When it comes to conventional career and business wisdom, some rules were meant to be broken. Meidl left that company to become primary caregiver to her young family. It was during this time, while being active in her children’s schools and local community, that she learned a lot about people, “grassroots” leadership, and collaborative influence.

When it came time to re-enter the workforce, those lessons helped Meidl to leapfrog beyond her prior roles to land a national leadership role.

“When I returned, I was thrown into a different industry and division,” she recounts.” Yet, with all that I’ve learned and the experiences that I’ve gathered, I was able to parlay that skill set into this new role.” Now, she serves as the Senior Vice President of the Healthcare Division at Allied World Assurance Company in Hamilton, Bermuda, proving that not all rules are set in stone, and fortune can smile on rule-breakers.

What are the unwritten, unspoken rules of your workplace? Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

• You must be a senior engineer for two years before becoming a principal engineer.
• Only the Vice President can negotiate with customers.
• Presentations to C-suite execs must be three minutes or less.
• Only external candidates will be considered for Director-level roles.
• You need to meet 100% of the job requirements before applying.

I know women who have challenged every one of these rules. With courage, good grace, and persistence, they were wildly successful. As Nina Bhatti, founder of tech startup Kokko, says, “Opportunity does not come gift-wrapped. You must take risks.”

So what does it take to be a successful rule breaker? I wanted to learn how leaders exercise good judgment and make great decisions when taking risks and breaking rules. I invited Meidl to participate as a panelist in a webinar titled “Breaking the Rules.” I wanted to understand how she assesses opportunities and risks before making a bold career move or business decision. I wondered: How does she know when to conform to the unwritten rules, and when to be creatively disruptive?

Intentional Rule-Breaking

“Rule breaking is about taking a risk,” says Meidl. “It’s taking a risk to invest your time, your focus, and even your financial resources to achieve a better outcome.”

“It’s intentional,” Meidl continued, advocating not for a blatant disregard for the ‘rules’, but for purposefully and proactively choosing a different path than the one you’re traveling. “It’s about doing things differently to find a better way.”

Three Rules for Rule-Breakers

“I have three simple rules that I learned while in school that have continued to guide me,” shares Meidl, who credits a college professor, Dr. E.J. Leverett, with teaching the risk management principles that have become guideposts for her life.

The three rules of risk management are:

1. Don’t risk a lot for a little.
2.
Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.
3.
Consider the odds or the potential consequences.

“I allow these principles to guide me at times when I am thinking about breaking a rule,” says Meidl. “Professor Leverett passed away in the 90s, but he would be thrilled to know his rules live on and have impacted so many lives.

Putting it into action

Ask yourself:

• What rules are you considering breaking, in business or in your career?
• How can you apply the three rules or risk-management to make a gutsy, but sound decision?

Whether you’re asking for a promotion outside of the review cycle, re-engineering a business process that’s always been done a certain way, or sitting at a blackjack table in a Vegas casino, these are three great rules to live by.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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