Let’s get one thing clear. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you’re being difficult or demanding.
The words people can throw around when you assert your boundaries are usually from a place of discomfort on their part.
It’s a projection not a fact.
Boundary setting is a sign of a healthy relationship — with yourself AND with others. And for all those people pleasers out there, you’ll probably get more respect if you put boundaries in place.
Put simply, a boundary is the standard you set — you expect even — it’s your definition of what is ok and what’s not.
It’s those markers or red lines that you draw that make it clear to others where you stand.
And because your boundaries are unique to you, there’s no set rulebook or process to follow. I’m not going to sit here and tell you what boundaries to put in place. You have to go on your own exploration around what feels right for you at this moment in time…
… and that’s key, because our boundaries — like everything in life — can change. And that’s ok. That’s not you being flaky, or being walked over, or being more particular. As long as you have awareness and you know where and why you draw the lines that you do.
As a leader, the boundaries you set in the workplace say a lot … it can set the tone, the culture of an organisation. You are literally creating expectations.
They manifest themselves in so many ways …
- the vision and focus of the organisation
- it’s values and behaviours
- the culture, management and working style
- the connectiveness of the people.
And that’s why it’s important that you are mindful of what your boundaries say and do.
Think about it… if you get into the office super early, leave late at night, always on the emails over the weekend. What’s the precedent and expectation you’re setting? The likelihood is that you’re creating or perpetuating an over-worked culture. People will feel guilty for sticking to their normal hours. It creates a ripple effect.
Or what about your health and wellbeing … if you don’t take a lunch break or any break. If you run from meeting to meeting back to back without the time to collect your thoughts or take a breather. What’s that saying to your team.
It’s all well and good saying that you don’t expect that of others, but actions speak louder than words. And you’ll lose integrity and trust if your behaviours are at odds with what you say is important to you.
The bottom line is that your boundaries are what will help make you a more effective and impactful leader.
And more than that — how you demonstrate your respect and value of other people’s boundaries is just as important.
So, if you want to start working on your boundaries, here are 3 areas you can focus on today:
1. How you use your time
This can cover everything from how you manage your meetings, how you create time to think and work on strategy and planning, what hours you choose to work and how you structure your day. What ‘rules’ you put in place for people who manage your diary. It could even be how long you spend scrolling versus engaging on social media!
2. How you work
It’s not just how you use your time but also what you choose to do with it. Not getting pulled down into the weeds by your teams. Knowing what type of work life balance you’re looking for — it might be making time to take the kids to school, or fitting in an exercise class. You might find that you’re most creative in the morning so you protect that time to allow you to focus on the right things. It might be what standards you want to set about your visibility in the organisation, how much you get out to network and build relationships… WHO you choose to build those connections with.
3. How you manage
I’m not going to get into a long discussion about assurance, reassurance, accountability and responsibility. You’ll know what your governance requirements are for your organisation — but be sure that you’re not getting them mixed up. I find when leaders do they’re often creating a vacuum of information that can feel like micro-managing for the teams involved. However, be clear on what you need to know, when you want people to get you involved … and to that end defining what’s information sharing versus input versus decision-making can really help.
And how you manage is also about the behaviours you display and tolerate of others.
And if you’re wondering HOW to get started
- identify those boundaries that are most important to you — it might be by designing your ideal day or week, or it might be by noting the areas that really make you mad — those unstated boundaries that are causing you problems
- once you’ve clarified a boundary, start thinking through how it will work in practice. What might you need to change. What process might you or others have to put in place.
- consistency is key. It’s like a habit that needs time to take hold. Remember if you keep changing your stance or approach to something how can you expect others to respect your boundary?
You won’t always get it right and that’s ok. The key is that you listen and learn along the way.
Oh, and ‘no’ isn’t a dirty word and you shouldn’t feel guilty for using it!