Why boundaries matter
Do you find yourself pulled in multiple directions? It’s a challenge we hear all the time from leaders – the constant battle to manage teams, projects, and stakeholders.
It’s a common cause of burnout and even when you can just about juggle, it inevitably leads to decreased effectiveness.
In lieu of handy clones to look after meetings, clients, and your team, setting and preserving boundaries is key to maintaining balance, enhancing productivity, and fostering well-being.
Having clear boundaries enables us and others to identify the things that are good for us to spend our time doing. It also empowers us to say no to the things that aren’t in line with who we are or are beyond our capacity.
As Dr. Henry Cloud highlights in Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge, “You get what you create and you get what you allow.” This is especially true in the workplace.
When we take control and establish the right boundaries it can transform our leadership and have a hugely positive impact on our personal well-being and productivity.
Establishing and living with boundaries
So how can we start to identify our boundaries and being to put them into place? Here are five tips to get things rolling:
1. Set expectations
To establish boundaries we need to set expectations. If it’s not realistic for you to attend meetings, to take on more projects, to meet deadlines be transparent about it – and encourage your team to be too. And be specific about it, commit – and ask people to commit – to specific responsibilities, goals, and metrics. It’s vital to take this beyond work hours as well, make sure you distinguish between work and personal life and lead by example in disconnecting after work and at weekends.
2. Get comfortable with no
Boundaries only work if we can uphold them, so we need to get onboard with saying no. It can be a challenge as a leader when the buck stops at our door but missing that event you feel obligated to attend or turning down the contract you’ll struggle to fulfil will be for the best in the long-term. When we say no and understand we can’t make everyone happy all the time we’re allowing those in our team to do that same. If you can enforce boundaries, others will feel comfortable doing so, it creates open and honest dialogue and gives your team permission to be transparent about their needs.
3. Prioritise communication
It’s not just about saying no, it’s keeping the right lines of communication open. A team that communicates well, operates well, and operates with healthy boundaries. Encourage people to express what they need – and what they don’t – to share feedback and to offer solutions. As leaders, team communication starts with us, take time to engage with your team, empathise with their challenges, and be responsive.
4. Don’t be afraid of delegation
When you want a job doing properly? Delegate. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of keeping all the important things close, but that way lies spreading yourself too thin and burning out. Effective delegation gives you the boundaries you need and gives your team permission to thrive.
5. Expect imperfection
You’ve been careful to plan, execute, and communicate your boundaries, but people will overstep, forget, or catch you off guard. It can help to have strategies in place for dealing with these boundary breaches to keep you on track. For example, if someone is offering you an unrealistic deadline or a meeting during your downtime, be up front and say, ‘that doesn’t work for me’. You’ll halt a potential breach but keep the door open for negotiating an alternative.
Boundaries build trust, long-lasting relationships, and well-functioning teams. But they take work – and they can shift and evolve as we and our teams develop. Creating a business where boundaries are on ongoing part of the conversation and culture will help you to shape an environment where respect, empowerment, and potential can thrive.