There was a hard and fast rule in Sarah’s mind for any event that her group hosted. If there were prizes raffled off, her staff could not enter the drawings. It was a reasonable demand from her, the staff admitted. What happened if a member of Sarah’s staff won one of the really good prizes? Even if an auditing agency had presided over the drawing and signed affidvits testifying to the validity of the drawing, someone might believe that there was something crooked in the drawing and the department’s reputation could be damaged. So, even though some of the prizes were quite good, the staff members never entered any contest in which they were involved.
Then the naming contest came about. It seems that a room dedicated to the use of one of Sarah’s departments was built, alleviating the need for that department to beg, borrow, or steal a room from another group, or hope that a public room was available. As the room was being finished, it was decided that a contest would be held to name the room. Like the other contests, staff members of the company could enter their suggestion and an impartial panel would choose the best answer, giving the room a name. The contest was announced, a special mailbox was set up to gather the entries, and staff was invited to send in their entries.
Looking through the entries, one name stood out. Sarah had put in an entry. A delicate inquiry was made to her regarding if this could be seen as suspect by the staff for the same reasons she gave for staff not being able to enter any of the department’s other contests. Sarah answered that this case was totally different and there was no conflict of interest in her entering it. If her suggestion happened to win, well, then so be it. Nobody could think any worse of the department because of it. Why? Because, Sarah said so.
Guess who won? Now, to be fair in reporting, the committee that chose the winner had only one departmental representative on it, so there wasn’t an undue influence by Sarah on the choice. However, that wasn’t the point. Sarah made sure that a plaque announcing the winner was placed in the room, so her name would now live in perpetuity, or at least as long as the room lasted. It served another purpose, too. The plaque served as a reminder that, if it benefited Sarah, the rules for everyone else didn’t have to apply to her. They had seen it many times before, and, thanks to the plaque, would be reminded of it many times in the future.
There is hardly a more important rubric when leading or managing people than to make sure that the rules you create for them apply to you as well. When you begin to apply the rules only to some and exclude yourself, you set yourself apart. When you serve up excuses why ‘this time’ is different so you can enjoy some benefit, you set yourself apart. When the only time the rules are bent is when you want them to be, you set yourself apart. By setting yourself apart, you negate any feeling that there is a team effort in the department. The only team are the horses up front pulling your carriage while you wave to the crowds.
The team won’t consider you one of the horses, though they will think of as another part of the horse. I guarantee you wouldn’t want that put on a plaque.