My 4 Rules: My 4 Professional Goals Are Now Legal

Yesterday I shared my four rules from back in 1999 and it struck me how they’re now 18 years of age. So I got to thinking how they’ve now left the YA (Young Adult) section of the library, and are now ready to go on to take on the world.

  1. Don’t speak ill of others.
  2. Avoid passive aggressive behavior.
  3. Listen broadly, but don’t waffle on decisions.
  4. When in error — admit, apologize, move forward.

I’m often asked why I created these rules — it has something to do with 1999 being the year that I started to understand how being a lone-wolf “maker” is easy. To be a leader of makers, or to be a leader among other leaders as your peers, is a lot more psychologically taxing than working as a pure maker. Now, is it harder? I wouldn’t say that — I’d say that it takes having a different set of competencies.

Some folks are born as leaders — they’re not makers to begin with. They are good at directing folks and seeing the big picture. I’ve met many of them on my life travels — and for some reason they all tend to be taller than average (smile).

Some folks are born as makers — they are much more inside their own minds. They are good at resolving complex issues by entering their “mind palace” and tackling issues on their own. That was me until roughly my mid-20s.

All makers don’t have to become leaders. What they make, is a form of leading. But makers who choose to lead people have a rough transition to make — it’s easy to lose oneself as someone who’s been taught that integrity in their work “looks” a certain way. I think I made my 4 rules to remind myself that the work of leading has integrity, too.

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As I look back, I know there are a few artifacts out there that mark my transition from maker to leader that help to explain why I wrote down my four goals. I found this super low-res image from 2006 on Flickr that was auctioned off at Colette in Paris for a benefit. It’s entitled “thicker skin.” I recall scribbling those two words intensely when I was in some big meeting at MIT where my patience was being tested and tested. I needed to send something to Colette for their auction, so the timing worked out that this artwork would be it. Apparently Thicker Skin x 75 was sold in the first few hours, so I figure someone else out there knows the virtue of having thicker skin (smile).


I also wrote a book with Becky Bermont entitled Redesigning Leadership which frames the many challenges of leadership when coming from spending one’s lifetime as a lone-wolf maker, and making the transition to leading a lot of people. It isn’t a book about successes — and it’s more a book about failures and recoveries. I wrote it for people in their 30s who are making the leap to leadership, and are currently unsure about it. It’s the book I wish I had read before making the jump — it’s meant to hopefully help those who are wondering whether they’re fit to be a leader to know that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way.

To learn more about my four rules, the original post is here. I hope they are useful to you as much as they’ve been useful to me over the last 18 years. Okay, blogging time is up! Back to work. —JM

2019 Update: This emojified recast by Alexandrine Allard is a welcome one.

1 Comment

Thanks for this 🙂 Always interesting to read your thoughts. It strikes me when people write things like this: “I wrote it for people in their 30s who are making the leap to leadership…”. I get bored usually reading advice for 20 somethings yet sometimes feel like I’m either cheating or am not going to understand the full context of advice for those in their 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. (Don’t tell but I read those articles anyway). You mention going from being a lone wolf maker to leading other makers to be more psychologically taxing. In my extremely limited experience, I agree. Moving from an individual impact maker to a force multiplier for others takes a completely different skillset and a different way of viewing your work across time (for me, it means looking at my work on a larger timescale). It takes getting used to a different kind of satisfaction and meaning with your work. Anyway, back to work for me too 😉