Changing the rules of the game: Culture

I recently read a great story about a softball game in which one player injured herself when going for a home run… and the action taken by her “opponent” who saw the need of another human being as overriding the need to win the game. The rules wouldn’t allow any of the injured player’s own team to help her around the bases without disqualifying her; so one of the opposition, having checked with the umpire that it didn’t contravene any rules, carried the injured player around the diamond to make a home run. All the players, coaches and spectators cheered and wept for the sheer joyous expression of generosity and care.

This ability to step back, look at the bigger picture and see what is important – or to put it another way, to change the rules of the game (or even to change the game you are playing!) – is an act of leadership. Having the ability and insight is one thing; enacting it can take courage and a willingness to expose oneself to criticism or worse. Not to do so is at best limiting and at worst may be dangerous. Knowing when to change the rules of the game for a higher purpose is an act of liberation of energy, creativity and humanity; doing it may be the most important act of leadership you can take.

Of course when we are “in the game” and playing hard our capacity to see beyond the given rules may be severely diminished. The old adage that “the fish doesn’t notice the water” is another way of expressing this. The culture in which we swim can be as invisible to us as the water to the fish.

The “rules” – real and self-created – may have served us well and may still be doing so. But…

  • Can we see them clearly enough to be able to inquire whether they are still serving us?
  • What are the “rules” of your game that are now stopping you from seeing and doing what may be needed?
  • Are you willing to change the rules of the game?

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