Remember ‘Rule Number 6’
Famed conductor Benjamin Zander likes to tell audiences this story: Two prime ministers are discussing the affairs of state when, suddenly, a man bursts into the room, huffing, and shouting. The hosting prime minister says to the man, “Peter, kindly remember Rule Number 6.” Peter immediately becomes calm, apologizes, and exits the room. About 15 minutes later, a woman rushes into the room in a clearly agitated state. She begins to explain the issue causing the upset when the prime minister says, “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” She, too, regains her composure, apologizes, and then leaves the room. The visiting prime minister can’t contain his curiosity and asks his colleague for an explanation of what just happened. “What is Rule Number 6?” he asks. The hosting prime minister smiles and replies, “Rule Number 6 is very simple: Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously.” “A fine rule,” says the visitor, who then pauses to ask, “What are the other rules?” The prime minister replies: “There aren’t any.”
Taking issues seriously while not taking oneself too seriously is a delicate balance good leaders must strike. At the root of much that is dysfunctional in leadership is the trap of becoming imperious and taking oneself too seriously. We all need to work on avoiding that snare.