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Senior Correspondent

"Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number Six?" "Very simple," replies the resident prime minister. "Rule Number Six is 'Don't take yourself so !*?&! seriously.'" "Ah," says his visitor. "That is a fine rule." After a moment of pondering, he inquires, "And what, may I ask, are the other rules?"

"There aren't any."

— Excerpt from "The Art of Possibility" by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander

At The Quality Coach, we are often invited to give talks on leadership in various settings, and we frequently share Benjamin and Rosamund Stone Zander's story. Rule Number Six can help those of us who have been culturally programmed to take ourselves so very seriously.

We work in competitive environments with very serious responsibilities. Our customers depend on us. Our employees depend on us. Our communities and families depend on us. Very serious stuff, indeed. It's easy to go there, and it's easy to remain there — day in and day out, remembering how high the stakes are and how important it is to focus on the very serious aspects of our roles and responsibilities.

One of the lessons from this story is to lighten up, which may well light up those around you. It is not about telling others not to take themselves so seriously or to lighten up or to get over themselves. It is about remembering to practice Rule Number Six ourselves. "Remember Rule Number Six" has been inscribed on desk plaques facing both ways to remind leaders and their visitors of this powerful practice.

Humor can bring us together around our inescapable human misadventures, miscommunication and confusion. When we find ourselves putting others down, being demanding or acting entitled, that is a good time to remember Rule Number Six.

We've found that remembering this simple rule actually frees us up to do our best work in any given situation. Looking for and discovering the humor in tense situations nearly always opens up a whole universe of possibility that we could not access from our more serious self.

For instance, I was to host and facilitate a lunch meeting for colleagues. My calendar indicated that the meeting would begin at noon. In fact, it started at 11:30. Intending to be at the meeting 25 minutes early for last minute preparations, I walked into a room full of colleagues who were enjoying their lunch and ready for the meeting to begin. I spent a couple of moments utterly mortified at my mistake, and then I remembered Rule Number Six.

My work and life seem to present daily opportunities to remember Rule Number Six. My very serious self may resist, but my very practical self knows the power of this wonderful practice and usually wins out.

What opportunities do you have to remember and practice Rule Number Six? How might doing so impact your work and personal life? How will practicing Rule Number Six impact the work and personal lives of those around you? 

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