Boundaries should never be barriers. Much has been written about what motivates and drives people.

Perhaps we can condense this all into the notion that at its simplest, what drives us is a desire to feel loved and accepted, to feel physically and emotionally safe.

Down the ages our desire to “be safe” has been reflected in where we choose to live, what we use to defend ourselves and who we choose to care about and trust.

So what does this have to do with leading others in modern corporate life?

In a world of increasing economic instability and job insecurity it’s more important than ever that leaders create a safe environment for their teams.

This does not mean a risk or challenge-free environment.  But people perform better when the balance between safety and risk, challenge and security is finely tuned and constantly assessed.

Managers who want to be considered leaders should pay attention to four inter-related areas:

  1. Having Boundaries
  2. Being Consistent
  3. Being Available
  4. Trusting and Caring

This week I’m going to focus on the issue of Boundaries.

A leader knows the differences between boundaries and barriers

Establishing and maintaining boundaries can be a tricky area for any manager, especially for one promoted from the midst of a group of peers. 

Managers who don’t accept that their interactions need to subtly change, and who fail to re-balance friendliness with appropriate formality, can fail their teams in a number of ways:

Managers can:

  • appear biased in favor of those with whom they have personal friendships
  • be tempted to share confidences about team members with selected “friends” who are also direct reports
  • over-compensate and become tougher and less accepting of those they are closer to
  • find it difficult to give meaningful feedback to individuals they see as “friends”

Direct reports can:

  • fail to adjust to the new dynamic and expect favors
  • feel unjustly denied promotion and believe that they could really do the job better
  • create discontent by appearing to “have the ear” of the boss
  • feel “lost” without formal structure, guidance and feedback that other colleagues may be receiving

Having boundaries means that as a manager you should:

  • Set clear expectations about the values and ethics of your team
  • Regularly review and mutually agree deliverables
  • State clearly up front the consequences of non-delivery
  • Hold individuals immediately and visibly accountable and recognize success in the same way
  • Avoid “taking sides” when your reports come to you with problems – check back later that they have resolved it between them
  • Do not “put off the tough stuff” – deal with problems when they are arise and are easier to handle
  • Learn to share your own problems with peers or an executive coach – not a select member of your management team

Remember that a lack of boundaries can leave us fearful and insecure. Too many restrictions, or overly controlled boundaries, can make us feel frustrated, rebellious or helpless.

Appropriate boundaries should make us feel safe enough and free enough to perform to our potential.

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