Think of Steve Jobs and you think of the person who knew what was best for Apple. Think of Elon Musk and you think of the person who knows what is best for Tesla and SpaceX. Think of Jeff Bezos, and you think of the person who knows what is best for Amazon.

The same is true for you: As a leader, you are the keeper of a company, a team, or a project. 

In most cases, you know best.

Even so, sometimes the best decision you can make is to employ what Oscar-winning director Ron Howard calls the rule of six and one.

As Howard says in his MasterClass series, directors "dream" the movie.

No matter how many other people are involved, the director's taste, vision, and decisions guide every aspect of the production and the final outcome. The film is his or her baby.

Yet, as Howard says, "if you try to enforce that too rigidly, you're losing all the spontaneity and that sort of organic creativity that the people around you have to offer. Coming to that understanding was the beginning of a rule that I just simply call the six of one rule: Six of one, half a dozen of another."

How does it work? Directors lead a team of key collaborators. Actors. Writers. Composers. Designers. Cinematographers. 

Even so, Howard says:

Your job as the storyteller, as the director, is like you're the keeper of the story. But if someone comes up with a suggestion, some talented person you've come to respect, [whom] you respected enough to hire, and they come to you with a suggestion that they understand on an intuitive level, on an organic level...

If that choice still achieves the objective of the scene or the moment in the story, then it's much better to let that person use their choice.

That's the rule of six and one. When the outcome is "six of one, half dozen of the other" (in short, basically the same), go with the employee's idea.


One, you instantly invest that person more deeply in the project -- and the overall outcome.

We all care more when something is "ours." When, even though we're not in charge, our suggestions are followed. When our judgment is valued. When our way, at least this time, is acknowledged to be the best way. 

Engaged employees have ideas; take away opportunities for them to make suggestions, or instantly disregard their ideas without consideration, and they immediately disengage.

Two, you develop a deeper level of trust with that person. As Howard says, when you're willing to say yes, people more easily accept when you say no.

As Howard says:

In fact, they like it [when you say no]. It's liberating because then they don't have to edit their ideas with a sort of, [gosh] forbid he uses it and it doesn't work. That's gone. That's no longer in the mix.

Instead they're free to have this dialogue going with you, and they're excited about the fact that you can edit: That you can exercise the responsibility you have to make those choices. 

Emotional intelligence and the rule of six and one

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions.

And the rule of six and one is a perfect example.

When employees offer ideas or make suggestions, they're vulnerable. They've put their intelligence -- and by extension, themselves -- in a position to be judged. Say no too quickly or too often, without taking the time to explain why, and people quickly shut down. 

It's only natural. The next time an employee makes a suggestion, take a step back.

Take a moment to decide whether that person's idea will achieve the essential or elemental objective -- whether it's just a different path to the same destination.

If it is, then go with their choice.

Because sometimes the most important decision you can make is who will decide.

So as often as possible, especially where creating an environment of collaboration and teamwork is involved, make sure that person isn't you.