“I should have prepared”. 

Mike was feeling the usual rising panic and disappointment when he realized he had not given himself enough time to strategize for this important meeting.  This was a new potential client, and this was the final meeting before they made a decision.  

He needed to impress them.

Yet, here he was, 15 minutes before logging onto Zoom, gulping down coffee to get energized and scripting out what he was going to say.  He could feel the sweat beading up on his forehead.

The meeting itself was fine, he fumbled the first 5 minutes but then recovered – but not well enough to close the account.  On top of being so tired, he was now feeling incompetent and terribly disappointed in himself.

So, what happened? This meeting was on the schedule for weeks – Mike knew he had to prepare.   Instead he got sidetracked into other meetings, late nights, challenging conversations and countless emails.  

Sound familiar?

Complex demands, time bending on itself as we move from Zoom to Webex to Teams, challenging personalities and the stress current events produce can overwhelm us and, de-rail our ability to cope and perform at our very best.  

What can we do though?  How can we regain a sense of control, calm and confidence when the challenges keep surging?

In his coaching session, Mike immediately thought his answer was time management.  If he cut time with his direct reports, he could buy himself time to think. If he could stop the constant interruptions from his peers, he could jump on a call with his boss to get help.  If, if, if…

Still, as he further reflected, Mike found that the usual time management tricks had never really helped him – like New Year’s resolutions, they stayed around for a little while and then dissipated under the weight of overwhelming demands.  In the session, he became aware that he was being reactive to the moment – setting, expanding and contracting his boundaries on an ad hoc basis rather than making thoughtful choices that would allow him to be his best self, even in the most wrenching of circumstances. 

To ensure we are making these thoughtful choices and our boundaries support our aspirations, our expectations and needs, we can assess our boundaries through these 6 lenses: 

6 Boundary Lenses

For Mike, the two R’s he was neglecting – Reflection and Reset – were key for him to get back on track.  When he reflected, he realized he had lost sight of what he valued the most – building long-term partnerships and driving innovation.  Shifting his boundary, he now asks himself how his decisions impact these values and how he can re-align if he has to deviate from them.

To regain focus on these two critical values, Mike had to clarify and sometimes, reset expectations – both with himself and others, about his role and the team’s workflow.  It was by no means easy, yet it opened a much-needed dialogue on what would serve the team’s long-term goals and how each person in the team could best contribute to those goals.  They are still working through this dialogue, with some compromises made along the way – now though, Mike shows up energized and prepared for these conversations – knowing others are also in the process of reflecting and resetting. 

Boundaries are malleable.  They serve us, if we allow it.  Sometimes we may want to contract our boundaries so we are more open to new experiences and risks that will lead to discovery and growth.  In other instances, we may need to expand them, so we protect critical priorities and values.  The key is to make a thoughtful choice, looking at the situation through each of the 6 lenses to gain valuable insight that will inform how we set, expand or contract our boundaries.  

So, when you think about your boundaries, which of the 6 lenses do you need to pay attention to?