When Linda was in graduate school in psychology, she was influenced by an amazing family therapist, Cloé Madanes, who wrote an article on parenting that Linda found life-changing.

The article talked about the fact that children deal with many rules from their parents and that those rules often change, making it extremely hard for kids to know what’s really important.

Madanes suggested that parents need to land on 3-5 rules so that kids know what is expected of them, parents know what to look for to determine compliance, and kids learn to negotiate with their parents within their rules.

So, when Linda became a parent, she came up with 3 rules for her children: 

  1. You can’t hurt yourself. 
  2. You can’t hurt others. 
  3. You can’t hurt property.  

Some families have rules about participating in family events, expectations about grades, or any of range of other priorities—but the goal with these rules is to limit them to 3-5 and have them last through childhood. The “you can’t hurt yourself” rule of Linda’s meant something quite different when her kids were little compared to when they had their driver’s licenses. Yet, the rule itself was the same. 

This clarity empowered her kids and as they got older, they learned to negotiate with her for permission to do an activity on the basis that their choice “didn’t hurt them, others, or property.”

Think about your own experience of rules. We’ve all had bosses who seemed to have a ton of rules—sometimes rules that were contradictory or changed mid-project—which left you confused and unable to be truly successful.  

As a leader or manager, sharing your 3-5 rules with your team can really increase your effectiveness. Remember, managers, like parents, are responsible for the success of others. Consider these guidelines to teach your teams your 3 – 5 rules:

1) Identify the 3-5 Rules that will set the standard for how the person you’re managing can demonstrate success. 

Here are some examples of rules that our clients have come up with:

  • My team needs to:
    • Be clear about the rationale for decisions.
    • Come to me with the problem defined and an initial idea for solving it.
    • Own success, and when it’s not happening, demonstrates a sense of urgency and clarity about getting it right.
    • Bring me in if there is a risk to the department or the organization.
    • Care as much about relationships within the organization as they do about results—and aim for excellence in both.

2) Sit down with the people you’re managing and let them know the 3-5 Rules that will guide your assessment of how things are going.

Tell them that they can count on you to let them navigate independently within the boundaries of these rules. And let them know that if they fail to work within these rules, you’ll discuss it with them since it indicates a problem.

3) Document what you’ve said in a summary to your team.

And, use them, over and over and over again.


Knowing what truly matters to you as a manager, will increase your effectiveness. Sharing your 3-5 rules with others empowers them; they know what you’ll hold them accountable to and they can ask that you give them room to navigate within the boundaries of those 3-5 rules. 

This week, try to notice what really matters to you, what you actually look for to measure success, and what you need from others to feel confidence in them. Your clarity will help you and others to shine.

Until next time,
Your Coaches and Allies at Carpenter Smith Consulting

You’re smart, you’re capable, and still… you’re overwhelmed!  

We know how hard it is to rise above the overwhelm. That’s why we created an incredible 5-week online program called Overwhelmed to Outstanding for you, where you’ll learn the powerful techniques for practicing self-care, determining your passions and priorities and finding ways to apply them to your daily life.

We’re offering this special course today for just $19.97. Less than one cup of coffee a week. You can’t go wrong (AND you’re worth it!)