Ready. Set boundaries. Go! In the midst of the turmoil and chaos of these times, setting or resetting boundaries is one of the most important compassionate leadership moves to create a thriving organization. It sounds simple, yet setting boundaries that work for you, your team, and your organizational culture may involve much more than meets the eye.
Just like our human nervous system, good boundaries help us connect, protect, and keep all the parts running smoothly. Good boundaries facilitate our connections to each other, help us to be more focused, productive, and cooperative, and support our mental and physical wellbeing. Boundaries can also protect us – from unnecessary fear, anxiety, overwhelm, burnout, disrespect, resentment, and injustice. When you intentionally map out the boundaries, especially in collaboration with your team, you are setting up everyone for success.
Set boundaries for yourself
No one can do it all. We all stumble and make mistakes. When we fail to set realistic boundaries for ourselves in terms of time commitments or refusing to accept failure, our high aspirations will backfire. The inevitable result will be burnout for yourself, and unrealistic expectations for your team as you project your own perfectionism on to them.
You can’t give what you don’t have. If you don’t set boundaries that allow yourself to recharge and replenish, you will not have the internal strength and resources to lead compassionately. One of the myths of self-compassion is that it is selfish. Taking care of yourself grounds you so that you can be aware of and respond to others.
Start with an honest examination of your situation, support, needs, desires, and goals. Set specific boundaries. Bright line boundaries are easier to follow. Do you prefer messages via email, text, or voice? Not before 8:30am, after 6pm, or on weekends? Get clear about the straightforward things that can help simplify your daily interactions and workflow. Your time and energy are your most valuable resources. Choose wisely.
Boundaries create psychological safety
Boundary setting in organizational settings requires a skillful touch. Set them too tight, and you are micro-managing. Set them too loose, and you aren’t leading. Compassionate leaders recognize that teams need a clear sense of what is important for focus, what can be ignored, and what may be in a gray zone.
Setting team boundaries is an important ingredient in creating a culture of psychological safety and trust. Clearly communicate what is desired or expected from team members, such as, “It is important to speak up if you see something that concerns you about the state of this project,” or “Please let me know if you have a personal issue that you need to address.” Compassionate leaders recognize that bringing bad news to light can be difficult. Leaders need to encourage courageous communication and reward it when it occurs.
Boundaries benefit from collaborative creation
Setting boundaries is an opportunity to involve your full team in creating shared values and goals. As the world emerges from pandemic disruptions, there will undoubtedly be many redefinitions of work and personal boundaries. Use this chance to engage your team, take inventory of their needs and values, and listen carefully before you make decisions about what your work environment, expectations, and culture looks like going forward.
Inviting team dialogue around work boundaries has two important benefits. The first is that you are able to shape the boundaries that will make your team happiest and help them flourish. You can prioritize their preferences in ways that work best for the organization. Second, full team engagement helps the team understand the basis for the policies that are established. Even if they don’t agree with a final decision, they will have been able to see that the decision-making process was thoughtful and not arbitrary.
Boundaries can be liberating! They give you and your team the clarity that everyone needs for their work and personal life to flourish. More than that, compassionate boundaries become concrete expressions of the ways you create alignment with your organization’s mission and values. Boundaries put compassion in action for the benefit of all.