Boundaries Matter!

So, you’ve found what matters to you as a leader – an ambition that comes from the heart. It’s the direction in which you’ll lead your people, your “WHY,” and your reason for getting out of bed every day.

But now, how do you get there? Clear boundaries are the second cornerstone of the Mind Growing Leadership ABC. By setting boundaries for your team and people, you can establish a playing field for your “HOW,” while creating the intrinsic motivation that will move you all toward your shared vision.

Structure, Guidance…and Freedom

Setting boundaries might seem like a great way to introduce some structure and guidance for your team, but freedom? Let’s look at first things first.

Boundaries = Clarity + Predictability

Let’s imagine you’ve set up a sandwich bar. Why? Because you come from a long line of sandwich-makers and you can make a mean sandwich. Delicious – but it’s also the competitive advantage that sets you apart from any other competitor.

Naturally, you will want to translate that knowledge into instructions and rules so this competitive advantage is put into practice.

Some boundaries might be:

• Always include filling to spread in a 2:1 ratio;
• Never toast sandwiches after adding fresh salad; and
• Throw out ham 2 days before the expiry date.

You’re essentially giving people the message that they need to do things exactly how you do them. It can be very positive for some people, and very suffocating for others – either way, these boundaries offer their brains some predictability.

They also reduce your margin for error as a leader while absolving your people of responsibility if things go wrong. They even reduce mental effort – rather like Steve Jobs’ legendary turtlenecks.

Boundaries Can Empower!

Hopefully, we can now see how too many boundaries cause reduced responsibility and ownership. If people turn to the rules for every decision that needs to be made, there is very little room for creativity and autonomy.

If you were following strict parameters all day, how would you feel? Passionate, or…bored?

The answer is likely “bored,” but there is more to it.

If you were following strict parameters all day, would you ever have a chance to grow your skills and unique strengths?

Probably not. You might even be a superb artist who makes animal designs for kids, but nobody would ever know.

So how can leaders define boundaries to guarantee success while enhancing intrinsic motivation and using people’s strengths?

Balancing Boundaries

An effective way to do this is by critically revising all the boundaries you want to define. For each boundary you’ve come up with, ask yourself a simple question:

For me as a leader, what kind of solutions/results/behaviors from co-workers are not acceptable?

Would you be unhappy with…

• Soggy sandwiches from too much spread?
• Wilted lettuce from toasting after adding the salad?
• Less-than-fresh, or even expired ham?

This one great way to avoid stifling your co-workers with rules and instructions, while creating boundaries that are aligned with your values and passion. These boundaries aren’t created from the destructive parts of your ego, which protect your vulnerability. Instead, they stem from your core drivers and values, serving the interests of your authentic ambition.

Over To You…

When I was a student, I read about a schoolyard where children played during their lunch hour. At some point, researchers decided they would look at what might happen if they removed that fence boundary.

Some predicted – quite understandably – that the kids might roam further from the school itself, even leaving entirely. But in practice, that wasn’t the case: with that safeguard removed, kids stayed closer to the school and even played inside it. Without the boundary, they didn’t display the freedom they might otherwise have done. To me, it’s a great illustration of why we need this B in the Leadership ABCs!

Try looking at one rule, instruction, or boundary that exists in your company – then ask yourself the question above. Was the boundary necessary? If so, why? If not, could you get rid of it entirely?

Tell me your results below!