We see more and more in our society behavior by individuals that scream out “the rules don’t apply to me”. This is not a new phenomenon although the prevalence is certainly on the increase and is pervasive in business thus adding to the challenges managers face.
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of The United States following George Washington and John Adams. He is regarded by most historians as one of the top four presidents in US history along with: Washington, Lincoln and FDR. Jefferson was a prolific writer and at one point published his ten commandments:
1. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself
3. Never spend money before you have earned it
4. Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap
5. Pride costs more than hunger, thirst or cold
6. We seldom report of having eaten too little
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly
8. How much pain evils have cost us that never happened
9. Take things always by the smooth handle
10. When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, count a hundred

Jefferson’s commandments are thoughtful, reasonable and certainly good advice for all of us to follow if we want to live a good life. They have great relevance to business as well. What is most interesting to me is that Jefferson himself failed to follow his own commandments. Commandment #3 is where he particularly failed. Jefferson’s lavish tastes led him to spend money he did not have. When he was named Ambassador to France and moved to Paris he redid the quarters provided him and greatly exceeded the budget. He failed to accurately produce an annual accounting of the business of his farm that nearly cost him his precious Monticello.

Jefferson was by all accounts a brilliant man. President Kennedy once remarked at a dinner at the White House honoring Nobel Prize winners that the intelligence level in the room was probably only topped by the night Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Yet Jefferson was unable or unwilling to follow a rule he himself established. He continually spent money he did not have and put himself in difficult position.

Managers encounter Jefferson’s every day in their organizations, people who know the rules and intellectually understand both the rule and the wisdom of the rule yet believe they are an exception to it. This behavior places enormous stress on the organization. Once others witness this lack of respect for the rules they begin to ignore rules. Managers often find their credibility at stake if they allow people to ignore the rules.

I discuss the management aspects of managing the “rule breakers” or those who ignore the rules in my new book “The Square Pegs”. It is a challenge and requires both a wise strategy as well as expert execution of the strategy. I believe each of us has witnessed people in our firm who believe the rules are for others to follow and each of us knows our particular reaction to these people and situations. “The rules don’t apply to me” is a personality type easily recognized with potentially destructive results in an organization unless managed properly.

As a manager you should only establish rules you are willing to enforce without deviation. This position treats everyone fairly and protects the reputation and credibility of both you and your organization.