There’s a line from a Robert Frost poem that often comes to mind when I speak with leaders about managing their teams: “Good fences make good neighbors.” This line could be a mantra for leaders about the importance of boundaries.
As a leader, you have several roles related to boundaries in the workplace:
- Set and maintain good boundaries for yourself
- Establish and articulate boundaries for the team
- Monitor and maintain team boundaries
- Respond and repair when boundaries are violated.
In order to lead effectively, it is imperative you have clear boundaries for yourself, both personally and professionally. Your management of boundaries serves as the model for boundaries within your team. Once you manage your own boundaries successfully you are equipped to manage boundaries within your team.
The first step in setting good boundaries, whether for yourself or your team, is awareness. Know what is essential for you or the team to function at your best and what are the absolute deal breakers. For your personal boundaries, identify what energizes you, what drains your energy and what takes you off track. Encourage the team to make the same assessment for themselves individually and for the team as a whole.
Find a way to communicate boundaries within your team in ways that are clear and respectful. When individuals express their boundaries, they don’t need to defend, debate, or detail their feelings. For the team, boundaries should be negotiated and agreed upon by consensus, understanding that as the leader, you may need to negotiate the middle ground between competing priorities.
Two things to keep in mind when setting boundaries: make them few and make them important. Too many boundaries create confusion, exhaustion and opportunities for conflict. Your role as the leader is to monitor the team’s process and progress and issue warnings if it appears boundary violations are imminent. Recognizing potential problems ahead of time can help the team to make boundary adjustments, rather than responding to damage when a boundary is violated.
Once you’ve created a boundary, view it like a fence. It separates what is acceptable from what is not. Keep in mind that fences have gates – places where people can get from one side to the other with permission. Know when it’s time to open the gate or adjust the boundary and do it with intention, clarity, and consistency. Just as landowners periodically walk the perimeter to see if fences have been breached or need to be adjusted, take time to review your personal and team boundaries from time to time to see if new boundaries need to be drawn.
Good boundaries make good teams, just like good fences make good neighbors. Learn to be a boundary master and you will Increase Your Impact.
Dr. Sherene McHenry, Relational Leadership and Burnout expert, is a widely acclaimed speaker, author and coach that demystifies how to lead, motivate and resolve conflict for optimal results. Known for being wise, witty and practical, Sherene provides instantly implementable tips and strategies for enhancing effectiveness, increasing engagement and decreasing burnout, frustrations and miscommunications.