The following is an excerpt from Chapter 19 of my book, Learning Leadership Through Loss.
Boundaries, invisible fences or lines, define limits. They serve as guides. Responsible leaders set reasonable limits for themselves and others in their charge. In the workplace clear boundaries send a signal to both employees and volunteers that certain things are expected to happen and other things should never happen. Leaders must establish boundaries for relationships, behaviors, work/life balance, and performance. Communicating these boundaries and laying out the consequences for breaching them is essential. When weak or no boundaries exist or folks aren’t clear about what they are, individuals and companies pay a price. That price can take the form of low morale and declining motivation, verbal abuse and physical violence, lying, cheating, bullying, and stealing. It may involve legal liability. Or, maybe the cost is more subtle, showing up as chronic exhaustion in people who are habitually overworked.
First and foremost, determining sensible boundaries requires your commitment to create and sustain a healthy environment. It requires you to prove your personal support of basic principles, regulations, and rules. Testing your strength of character, boundary setting forces you to take responsibility for all aspects of organizational function. Of course you risk triggering others’ anger. You’d be surprised if nobody got mad. Thus, behind every boundary setting process lies this critical question: To what extent are you willing to be a leader even when it’s hard?
Understandably, sometimes fear and guilt get in the way. It’s human nature to worry about people’s reactions to lines that must be drawn. How you present those lines may matter more than the boundaries themselves. Use diplomacy, but be firm. For example, don’t apologize for informing folks that social media diversions take place over breaks and lunch or raising one’s voice with customers is completely forbidden. Explain the purpose of each boundary as well as measures of enforcement.
Take a look at ten personal and organizational benefits to boundaries below:
You foster a culture of respect .
When people actually know how you expect them to interact with each other and with you, they pay closer attention to their choice of words, voice volume and tone, and body language. They know you are listening and watching. High quality interpersonal treatment amongst players at all levels impacts the bottom line.
You protect people, their property, and their rights
In most cases formal policies that prohibit abuse, harassment, and theft thwarts these sorts of unwanted, unacceptable behaviors in the workplace. As a leader, part of your job is to keep folks safe. When people feel they don’t have to be concerned about physical, sexual, or emotional harm, they can relax and focus on their work.
You uphold organizational standards.
The behavioral, productivity, and achievement standards by which you operate generally stem from the organization’s mission, beliefs, and values. Specific performance standards are tied to employee job descriptions. Upholding standards compels everyone associated with your company to create and actualize attainable goals.
You increase efficiency.
When people work within clearly defined boundaries, they waste less time trying to figure out what they are to do and how they are to do it. They are aware already of your expectations in all of the important buckets. In this era of needing to accomplish more within the same amount of time, greater efficiency across the board counts.
You have a yard stick.
Once you set clear boundaries in any area, refer to them when somebody pushes up against one. Behaviorally, boundaries determine the code of conduct for your environment. In regards to performance, boundaries serve as indicators for whether or not people make the mark. Evaluating success becomes less subjective.
You provide structure.
Boundaries offer a framework in which employees and volunteers can do their jobs and interact with each other. This framework is the guidance all people need and expect to function best. It brings order to the natural chaos inherent in any organization or situation. Too many boundaries, however, can hinder creativity. Your challenge is to strike a balance.
You enable people to feel secure.
If you are a parent, you know that boundaries help children and teens to feel safe. While they may rebel or resist temporarily, they generally appreciate these lines in the sand. Especially in rough waters. Most human beings do not thrive in a sea of unlimited freedom because they can’t manage the overwhelm associated with it. People prefer those invisible walls.
You position folks to focus.
As staff and volunteers feel more secure in the workplace, they are better able to focus on what they are to accomplish. They don’t need to wonder if they are doing the right thing in the right way. The established boundaries provide guidance for the day to day what and how. This clarity increases engagement and diminishes stress.
You instill a sense of accountability.
Think of boundaries as benchmarks for behavior and performance. They provide the lens through which you and others view and assess the way they talk, act, and deliver. When people know they are being held accountable, they typically think twice before they demean a colleague or slack on the job.
You sharpen your assertiveness skills.
As soon as you make the decision to set any kind of boundary, you confidently declare your willingness to take a stand for something. The people in your world need to see you do this on a regular basis. As they watch you step into your power, they develop greater esteem for you as their leader. Whether they choose to be silent or vocal, they haven’t missed your moves.
What boundaries have you not yet set? Why are you resisting or avoiding establishing them? How can they resolve certain problems? What would motivate you to set these boundaries?
To read the rest of Chapter 19 – and the remainder of the book – please check out the Leadership Through Loss website.