5 Boundaries That Must be Made! (Part 2 of Boundaries for Leaders)

  • 03
  • Feb
5 Boundaries That Must be Made! (Part 2 of Boundaries for Leaders)

In the previous blog post we looked at setting boundaries as one of the most important things a leader can do for office unity and productivity.  We look specifically at three different kinds of people that violate boundaries.  The cubicle jumper, the keyboard commando, and the space invader.  We also defined what a boundary is, why boundaries are so important and how to implement those boundaries. We encourage you to read the blog and listen to the podcast. I want to draw your attention now two five top areas your boundaries must be made.  

1)    Time Boundaries

I think we all know that time is a valuable commodity and we only have a limited amount of it in our lifetime.  For many of us, the average eight-hour day is never enough to get all her work done.  This is largely true because people invade our time.  However, it doesn’t need to be this way.  It’s your responsibility to manage the time that you are given to be as productive as you can in that eight-hour day.  There are a great deal of leadership books, seminars, and tools which are now available to help people steward their time.  I’m the kind of person that uses many of those resources, and as a result, I have become much more productive in my day. I used to be the kind of person that would accept every phone call, and respond immediately to every email, and attend every networking event.  The problem was in doing that I subjected subjecting myself to what is known as the “tyranny of the urgent.”  It wasn’t urgent for me, rather it was somebody else’s urgent issue. If you accept every call and other electronic form of communication, then you are on a trajectory toward physical and emotional exhaustion.  At least that’s how I felt all the time until I made a decision to control the time and prioritize the tasks that were important to me.  So, I made much needed adjustments.  I begin to limit responding to emails until after 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It would be the last thing that I do during the day. I’m of the belief that that which is truly urgent will never be communicated through an email. Phone calls to my office would be responded to sometime after 3 o’clock.  It was at the discretion of my secretary as to whether or not a phone call was truly important enough that she could break into my boundary or whether she could just take the message and give it to me later.  I need to make it clear here I never ever, ever, give out my cell number to people.  Only my wife, kids, mother and secretary have my cell number.  If you give out your cell number, you are inviting people to enter your boundaries on their whim.

            Additionally, I like to both use online calendars like Google calendar and a paper day timer to ensure that my time is the most productive it can be. Every Sunday evening, I go through my electronic calendar and merge what is coming up in my week with my paper planner. Let me put in the plug here for the best planner you can buy, that is the Full Focus Planner from Michael Hyatt. It is design with productivity in mind but also, as we shall see in a moment, it helps guard the need for personal time boundaries. I also, with my staff, make sure that our electronic calendars are merged with one another so that I can see when they would be in or out of the office, which tasks they were prioritizing, and when they needed personal time.  After all, I want to respect their boundaries too!

5 Boundaries That Must be Made! (Part 2 of Boundaries for Leaders) |

2)    Financial Boundaries

            A few days ago, I went for lunch with a former colleague and yet always a friend.  After a number of years living and working in different arenas we now live and work in the same area.  He described to me a financially problematic matter he faced at his previous place of employment.  His superior was wooing some potential large-scale financial backers. As part of his desire to persuade these backers to make sizable investments he took the potential backers, and key staff, to a high-end steak restaurant.  I’ve been to the restaurant that my friend had described. It’s the kind of restaurant where steaks are usually north of hundred dollars and you pay a ridiculous amount of money to have a potato on the side.  After the meeting was over my friend was deeply distressed because the organization works largely off the donations of others.  He felt that the boss spent far too much money in an effort to impress potential financial backers.  I realize there’s a time and place for such wooing, but this was not one of them.  As a result, my friend made the difficult decision to boundary-up.  He went to his superior and made it clear that such expenditures were not just problematic but unethical, therefore, after discussing the matter with other staff who were at the meeting, they agreed that each would pay for their own portions of the meal.  He said to the superior, “what you do with your expense claim is your business we will not expense our portions of the supper.” Needless to say, financial boundaries need to be set in accordance the values, the believes and the mission of the organization.  The company credit card is not for your personal ATM.  It is to be used judiciously and each transaction must be documented as to whom you were with, what was the nature of the expenditure and the purpose behind expediture.  The expenditure must also be scrutinized by third party.  

3)    Social Media Boundaries

            In the previous blog and podcast, I spoke about a colleague that struggled with social media and the need that I had to place boundaries on him.  He is but one example of many that I’ve seen when social media got in the way of productivity in the workplace.  I sit on the number of committees and boards.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen reflecting off the glass windows of a board room, or the mirrors in an office, board members that are looking at social media and responding to their feeds. Another annoyance in the board room were people that would constantly click their mouse because they were looking up who-knows-what on the internet during a time of discussion. When I chair a board or committee and it is becoming apparent that the meeting has fallen apart because electronic media has taken over the meeting, I make balance of that meeting, and all subsequent meetings, in-camera.  If there is a need for some reason, such as research, that perusing the internet needs to be made, it will be done by the board secretary only and upon the instruction of the board chair alone.  In my first meeting with any board or committee I always make it clear there’s to be no use of social media at all; strictly verboten! If after the boundary has been set committee members are still responding to their social media feeds, or they’re cruising an online sales site they will be having a very meeting with me where we will discuss boundaries.  There are far too many people who are dependent upon you, and your collogues, being productive to spend time getting lost on the internet during a board or committee.

5 Boundaries That Must be Made! (Part 2 of Boundaries for Leaders) |

4)    Personal Time Boundaries

As a leader you need to make it clear and non-negotiable that personal time and rest are a priority.  Whether you are booking time to have breakfast with your wife, or supper with your family, or any other kind of time for recreational purposes, these boundaries must be made clear. You need time to rest and recreate. The fact is, every productive person needs time to unplug from the demands of work and prioritize time with family.  We each need time to work on our physical and mental health, and just unwind.  This is why I like the word “recreate” because when you break the word down into its parts is says RE-create.  It carries the idea that whatever chaos or mending you need to do, you are being re-created. I actually put into my electronic, and paper calendars, time to be with my family.  I’m very intentional about what we will do to build the closest and best relationship I can have with my wife and children.  Some weekends we will drive into the city and enjoy the day downtown. Other times I will take my sons fishing.  One thing is for sure, whatever activity we involve ourselves in, it is an activity that guaranteed to provide good communication between my family and myself. In other words, times of recreation will not include any electronic media.  Nor will it include sitting in a movie theater because in doing those things you don’t actually communicate with your family.  Beyond that, there’s no limit to the kinds of things you can do where you can enjoy time with family.  When you share your electronic calendar with your staff, they need to know there is no way they can break in on that time unless it is a most vital emergency.  

Another personal time boundary, that should be a part of every workplace, is a sabbatical.  Sabbaticals have been part of the academic landscape for many years. Over the past couple of decades clergy have been increasingly seeing the benefits of a sabbatical.  I know of one company in the United States that gives their employees a one-month sabbatical every 3 ½ years and every seventh year the three-month sabbatical.  This company realized that when they send their employees away for times of rest and recreation the employee comes back eager to be productive and indeed statistically, they have seen their productivity go up from those employees. Some companies are afraid to implement this out of fear that their employees will quit upon return but once again statistics do not back this up.  In fact, companies that offer their employees sabbaticals are far more likely to retain their best employees.   Almost 4 years ago I had a sabbatical and I have to say it was one of the most precious times of my life.  It provided for me opportunity to heal from some painful events that happened in my family life, allowed for some amazing people to speak into my life, and I was able to take significant time to be with my family, particularly my wife Ingrid, who joined me in London and Amsterdam for a couple of weeks.  If your organization doesn’t have sabbaticals, be a leader and start having a discussion around this issue, and hopefully your place of work will see the benefits.  


5 Boundaries That Must be Made! (Part 2 of Boundaries for Leaders) |

5)    Physical Space Boundaries

            The last boundary that needs to be set is one concerning physical space boundaries.  It’s unfortunate in this day and age of the #metoo movement that this still has to be discussed.  Yet here we are with headlines still beaming stories about men that have inappropriately touched coworkers.  Sadly, in my 23 years of ministry, I have had to establish these boundaries very strictly upon people.

When I was newly in ministry, I took a group of youth on a camping trip to a remote lake in northern Saskatchewan it was good an opportunity to hike in the boreal forest, canoe in a Northern Lake and see the beauty of God’s creation.  As this was a rustic camping trip, we all had to bring tents and our cooking area would be over a fire and under a tarp.  I instructed a couple of youth-leaders to climb two different trees in place a rope from between the two trees so that we could hang the tarp. My one young leader climbed a tree and lost her footing and slid down a little bit giggling at her incompetence to climb.  It was just then that an older leader in his early 50s decided to help her climb up the tree by pushing her up by placing his hands on her bottom.  Needless to say, I was livid.  I immediately took him aside and put down the boundary for the rest of the camping trip that he was to no longer touch anybody unless a person’s physical health was in danger. He also was not allowed to be alone with anybody. When we returned to our community, I called for a meeting between him, my lead minister, and myself where I made it clear that is long as I was going to oversee the youth ministry in this church, he would have no more interaction or are be allowed to volunteer in the youth ministry.  He was mad, but it was a ruse.  He even had his wife come to my office and triangulate for him in tears that he should be helping the youth because that was his calling.  In this issue, I’m an oak!  I don’t easily succumb to emotional blackmail.  I later found out, that right around the same time of his offensive behaviour to my youth leader, another girl in her teens, who worked at his business filed a complaint with the police that he inappropriately touched her.

I have zero tolerance in this area, and I have dismissed every person that has improperly touched another person except one. I relieve them of their work whether their touch was on purpose or whether it was a so-called innocent accident. The reality is you never know whether the offending person is grooming a victim or an office pervert.  The only time I couldn’t dismiss the person who had inappropriately come in contact with another person, led to my dismissal because it was easier for my so-called leaders to do that than confront the real issue. Any organization that protects the indefensible actions of others is an organization that I am glad to be fired from! 

As you have seen in this this blog, and the previous blog, boundaries are essential part of life.  There will be all sorts of people that will resist boundaries, but such people are not conducive toward productivity nor do they contribute to a safe work environment. Never feel bad about setting boundaries.  Know that it is one of the greatest leadership tools you can ever pull out of your leadership toolbox.