Break Free From Inflexible Thinking

This is the seventh post in a series where Women of HR writers share their thoughts and reactions to a manifesto, Six Rules Women Must Break In Order to Succeed.


Rule #6 in The Six Rules Women Must Break in Order to Succeed – It’s Both/And (Don’t Fall Into Extreme Thinking), cautions us to avoid falling into extreme, black & white thinking.

But even beyond keeping an open mind, realizing that there are many shades of gray, and learning to deal with ambiguity, it also encourages us to “see the big picture” while maintaining a flexible outlook and approach.

I believe that this may be the most difficult of the six rules for many HR practitioners.

By the nature of our jobs, at least traditionally speaking, we have been taught to follow the rules and enforce the policies.  This by definition encourages extreme or black & white thinking.  Many HR practitioners, especially those in tune and with a passion for the changes that need to be realized in the field of HR, are learning to break away from this limiting approach to resolving issues.  Instead of just blindly enforcing the rules, they are learning to view issues in shades of gray, to think about not only the impact on the people involved, but also on business outcomes.  They are learning to become business partners within their organizations.

However, too many still either struggle with breaking away from black & white thinking, or maintain no desire to do so.  Too often we still hear phrases such as “that’s how we’ve always done it” and “that won’t work” being uttered; a tendency to write the rules for the minority instead of managing the exceptions is still too common of a practice.

I understand that there needs to be certain rules and guidelines in place; rules to ensure a safe, legal, and productive environment for our employees.  But when we spend too much time focused on those rules and who might break them, we lose sight of what our true purpose should be: providing the support to perpetuate the success of our organizations through our people.

In my own experience there have been times I have witnessed a hesitation to be flexible (or at least a difficultly in doing so) for fear of the precedent it may set.  I have even caught myself falling victim to this sort of thinking in certain situations.  Rule #6 reinforces that we need to break free from this inflexible thinking. We need to be optimistic and believe that most people, by nature, are well-intentioned and not looking to break the rules or cheat the system.

We need to free ourselves from the fear of “what might happen” and focus our energies on how we can proactively contribute.  Because if we continue to operate in an atmosphere of fear, we will never rise to the top levels of leadership that the authors are challenging us to achieve.

About the Author

Jennifer Payne

Jennifer Payne is a 20+ year human resources leader with a focus on researching, developing, and implementing talent management programs. She is a believer in lifelong learning and self-development who strives to stay current in HR trends, technology, best practices, and the future of work by sharing knowledge with and learning from HR colleagues and thought leaders across the country and throughout the world through writing, speaking, and involvement in various industry conferences and events.  She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter...

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