Do you often resist rules or procedures? Do you welcome opportunities to break the status quo and to create or build new stuff? Are you a change agent, or at times, a wrecking ball? Do you have stories you could share about times you rejected authority that might surprise others? Do you enjoy being a prankster?

If so, you are probably a Rule Breaker. This is an inherent risk factor that can lead to problems on the job or can hurt your career, if gone unchecked. Obviously, this trait can also contribute to needed changes, fresh outlooks, new business ventures and creative bursts of cool new things. The question is — how do you strike the balance?

Being a Rule Breaker doesn’t happen overnight. From childhood on up, our inherent risk factors develop and by the time we are adult age these are often our natural coping responses to adversity or conflict.  The Rule Breaker trait is one of the dark sides of personality. Interestingly, your character traits, or your bright sides, may also contribute to your lack of rule abiding (if you have low Prudence with low “Avoids Trouble” on the CDR Character Assessment measures).

I can relate this risk factor to some of my past life experiences. When I was in second grade, being raised a good Catholic girl, I was required to go to confession every Saturday. It was downright scary to have to go into a dark closet-like room, which was the confessional in the Church.  This was a total creep out as a little girl and my heart would race like mad each time I had to go. The only light was the honey combed yellowish screen that the priest would slide open to speak and to hear the confessor. I remember one confession at the age of seven that still stands out for me:

I said, “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been one week since my last confession.  Father, I lied once.” I was given five Hail Mary (prayers) to say as penance for that offense.

Here was the deal behind my confession that confirms my path in becoming a Rule Breaker. The lie I was confessing was that I had just lied to the priest. It had actually been two weeks since my last confession (due to my parents not getting us to the Church because we lived a couple miles away). I was so afraid of the priest that I lied to him. Then, trying to be a good girl, I confessed my lie.

Of course, growing up there were many other instances that I did not tow the line, exactly. For example, I remember sneaking out at nights to meet boys while camping with our family. In fact, I was so good at this caper that I could crawl feet behind my parents at night who were sitting enjoying the campfire. A few years ago, I enjoyed buying a car with a Hemi engine so I could quickly buzz by anyone I cared to on the open highway. Of course, my job role as a business owner and entrepreneur is ideal for the Rule Breaking or non-conventional person because we have such an open canvas to create or try new “stuff.”

Fortunately for me, my Rule Breaker tendencies are moderated with my need to succeed, to be perceived positively, and to be liked. (Drivers: Power & Competition, Fame & Feedback and Companionship & Affiliation.) This helps me along with an acceptable pulse on my Prudence score – which is the conscientiousness factor.

Most Rule Breakers have some boundaries to help them not go too far.   However, when coaching leaders who have high risks as Rule Breakers and who do not have strong internal moderators, one piece of advice I give them is “do not drink alcohol at company functions.” This is because they are impulsive and liquor zaps their limited internal regulatory sense. In one case, an Organization Development Leader in an energy company ignored my advice. With a few drinks in him, he made the unwise decision to go skinny-dipping at the company’s annual meeting offsite. Unfortunately for him, one of the newer board members saw him and really saw much more than he wanted to see. Within less than a month, that leader lost his job.

While meeting at the Pentagon with the Chief Learning Officer and her team to discuss a roll out plan to use our assessments for their leadership development initiatives, we had an amusing exchange.  She said to us “Well, we can’t use the term ‘Rule Breaker’ here that you have in the Risk Assessment. In the Department of Defense everyone must follow the rules.” We chuckled and said, “really, that is kind of funny because the reason many go into the military is to break stuff.” In the end, we were good to go with using our preferred term, Rule Breaker, for all of the project work.

Here is the definition of the Rule Breaker scale from the CDR Risk Assessment Report with sample behaviors:

Rule Breaker – This scale depicts those who ignore rules, test the limits, do what feels good, jeopardize company resources, and who do not think through the consequences of their behavior or decisions. In leadership roles, Rule Breakers can lose credibility and betray trust by violating rules and may be prone to fostering a dysfunctional work environment because of their impulsive and potentially destructive behavior. Examples: Failure to comply or cutting corners with safety rules, spending more funds than expenditure authority may permit, and ignoring guidelines for appropriate Internet searches.

So, if you have Rule Breaker traits, here are some tips you can use:

  1. Test your impulsive ideas with a trusted colleague or levelheaded person before acting.
  2. Before acting, think about and write down potential consequences, down sides or the possible negative impact on you and others.
  3. Slow down. Breathe. Count to 10. Be more thoughtful. Take your time.
  4. Write down the last 3 to 5 times you broke rules that caused some level of pain or concern.
    • Then, examine: what were the triggers that set you off to act?
    • Who or what prompted you to push forward with you ill-conceived impulse behavior or reaction?
  5. Last, on all 3 to 5 times from your list above, write down a couple of ways you could have acted more thoughtfully or more appropriately for the situation. This list provides you with insights for the next time your triggers start going off.

Recognize that your impulsiveness or prankishness can, occasionally, be fun for or add spice to what otherwise could be boring work or times. That is fine so long as you set and live within boundaries.

For example, I am impulsively writing this blog post now. I should not have sidetracked myself and spent the 40 minutes that I did on this post. This is not part of my “task list” or projects that I needed to attend to today. I really did not have the time to do this and it is interfering with accomplishing my work list but this kind of thing gives me pleasure. However, I did something that hurts my planned tasks for the day and this does put more pressure on me to finish everything else. (My team will probably roll their eyes – they are not Rule Breakers.) So, now I can get back to work feeling like I did something kind of fun and that didn’t conform with plans.