• 30
  • Jan
Boundaries for Leaders

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are one of the most difficult areas to implement and yet one of the most essential tasks a leader is ever given to do. Every office has at least one worker that is disruptive to their coworkers. There are many ways in which these people can be disrupting yet here are the three primary ways people can be disruptive toward the productivity and undermine the ethos of an organization.

1)The Cubical Jumper:

Perhaps, they may have a knack for being able to dislodge people from their tasks and have them focus on things which are not important. These are the people to go from cubicle to cubicle or office to office and waste the time, and energy, of others with trite things. Usually they present coworkers with problems that are either not within the purview of the co-worker’s job description or it is something that is easily solvable by the disruptive worker. Cubical Jumpers are very demanding of other people’s time and mental energy. One former leader of mine in an organization that I worked with called such people “VDP” for “very demanding people.” That was a moniker that you never wanted him to attach to you! Such people have a self-centeredness about them with an attitude of me first. They believe their agenda is more important than the agenda of the organization or of others. Such people will often pre-empt the instructions of leadership by freely casting out their own opinions and tax the good will of others. They have an inability to take over board or committee meetings with an agenda of their own perhaps giving far too much opinion and not taking enough time to listen.

2)The Keyboard Commando:

Another type of disruptive person is the one that seems to have no self-control in regard to social media. These people post inappropriate comments on their own social media sites or misuse the organization’s social media sites. Several years back, I was taking some postgraduate studies in another country. In the evening, after I completed my classwork for the day, I took the opportunity to scroll through one of my social media feeds. It was then that I saw that a co-worker, whom I left in charge as office manager, had during office hours posted over 15 different articles within the space of about two hours. These were not postings that had anything to do with his tasks nor anything to do within the focus of our industry. It was just general information articles. When I came back from my education week, I addressed this with the person and asked, “why did you spend so many hours looking at and posting articles that have nothing to do in regard to the work you were responsible for?” In our conversation he said he never actually read the articles beyond the headline but posted them because he thought friends would find the postings to be interesting. He was wasting precious time and expense. Later our organization was about to launch a new website and we were going to do the launch publicly. This employee made the website live thus ruining the public launch. Still later he also posted some rather inappropriate comments on his personal feed which served to embarrass him and the organization he worked with. This led to a written reprimand. There was much more, but I think you get the point. He had no boundaries concerning social media.

3)The Space Invader:

Still another type of disruptive person is the one who, for better or worse, does not respect the physical space of others. They give inappropriate hugs or inappropriate touch that, even though in their opinion the touch is non-sexual, they violate the space needs of others. Most people don’t know if a woman has historically been on the receiving end of sexual violation and are therefore, they very cautious about touch. In this time of the #metoo movement, people in leadership need to take great pains to ensure that the workplace is safe not only from sexual harassment and touch, but to implement strict boundaries surrounding this matter. Additionally, we must be aware that peoplewho have no boundaries (self-regulate) are often exercising manipulative and exploitative behavior. Even though they can see that people are finding their invasion of space unacceptable or even objectionable, the offender doesn’t care. It’s their agenda that matters.Eventually the disruptive person’s behaviour becomes self-destructive and harm the relationships within the office.

Boundaries for Leaders |

What is a Boundary?

All relationships need boundaries. Including in the workplace. A boundary is an imaginary line that separates me from you and you from me, but in the best possible way. They separate your physical space, your feelings, needs, and responsibilities from others. Your boundaries also tell other people how they can treat you – what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Without boundaries, people may take advantage of you because you haven’t set limits about how you expect to be treated.

I often think of boundaries as like that of an international border. When I cross a border, I first recognize that I am going to a country that is not my own. This country has laws, values and beliefs that are not mine. I also don’t have a right to just enter the country. I need their permission. I must give my rationale for crossing the border and the border guard has the responsibility of determining whether or not I can cross that border or boundary. There are also consequences if I cross a border without permission.

The same holds true for personal borders or boundaries that we cross. When a boundary is clearly established and is crossed without permission, you need to provide feedback saying it's not okay. The boundary is worthless if you don’t enforce it by giving feedback and consequences. Some people will easily accept a boundary and others will continue to challenge and escalate it.

Why Are Setting Boundaries So Important?

So why are boundaries so important? The short answer is, “self-care.” Healthy boundaries are a crucial component of self-care in all aspects of our lives. Whether at work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries lead people from annoyance, to bitterness, to anger, and finally to burnout. Nobody wants to burnout in their job or relationships. They want to burn bright! Thus, boundaries are really about social stewardship. If you want to enjoy your work and be productive then set those boundaries. Here are some additional positive-point-form-notes as to why boundaries need to be set. Boundaries:

  • Make Your Leadership Presence Known
  • Set the Emotional Climate
  • Build Trust
  • Promote Unity
  • Help Everyone Find Personal Fulfillment in Work
  • Offer Less Stress
  • Provide for Creativity
  • Organize Thought Patterns
  • Deliver Productivity
  • Allow for Clarity in Communication
  • Protect the Values, Beliefs and Mission of the organization


How to Implement Boundaries

Boundaries for Leaders |

1) Start Small

If you are new to leading an organization, you don’t want to give your staff a broad list of boundaries because you need to be accessible in the early stages of the position, and you likely don’t know the daily practical expectations of the workplace. However, as time moves on, and you become more accustomed to the demands of the position, you can add, or even withdraw, boundaries. The first boundaries, which mustbe general in nature, should be presented at a board, committee or staff meeting. This way everyone knows all the boundaries and the staff can keep each other accountable. Use handouts, time sheets, online calendars or any other tangible way to set those boundaries. Also allow time for staff or board members to name their boundaries too. You don’t want to get in the way of their job satisfaction!

2) Be Personal

After the staff has general boundaries set you will see, and experience, individuals that struggle by invading the space of others, decreasing productivity, and creating office anxiety. These people need to be addressed personally. Set a time to meet, write down what you are going to say, set the expectations, encourage feedback (aka pushback) and manage their expectations. Also, write a letter or email thanking them for the meeting you had with them about boundaries and in the letter again reiterate which boundaries were set and why.

3) Make the Boundaries Clear

Give the subject (eg. time, finances, social interaction etc.)

Name the Boundary (eg. you must not ________. From this point forward you must ___________.).

Provide an outline as to when its ok to ask permission to cross a boundary.

Give Your Rationale (eg. your interruptions at meetings, that are not about the subject matter at hand, are causing the committee to lack creative discussion)

State the Consequences (eg. If there are any further violations there will be a letter on file, sensitivity training, remedial training, dismissal etc.).

One last instruction. DON’T FEEL GUILTY! Remember, people that violate boundaries are often exercising manipulative and exploitative behavior. By setting boundaries you are being a help to them better as leaders, and more importantly, you are bringing the safety and productivity you and your staff need.