Setting Boundaries: 7 Ways Good Managers Get It Wrong

Sneakers From Above.Employees know when they have a “nice” manager who isn’t really in charge—and in the end, it makes them feel unsafe. Dr. Henry Cloud literally wrote the book on this topic, but I wanted to share a cast of characters to help represent some of the boundary-challenging habits I’ve seen that can undermine the good manager.

Please don’t be too alarmed if you see yourself in one of these descriptions—that was one of my intentions. I wanted to make it easy for you to identify yourself. After all, you can’t craft a solution until you identify the real nature of the problem. My intention in using the labels is to keep things fun and light, but also to be clear.  Okay, here goes:

The In-Director. You believe people don’t like to be bossed around, and you don’t want people to think you’re bossy.  So you don’t give super clear direction—but then you’re disappointed in the results.

The Punch Puller. You are afraid of damaging the relationship or demotivating the employee, so you don’t give constructive, developmental feedback when needed. Even when you are forced to give feedback, you fail to make clear requests.

Ms. Max Flex. You are so sympathetic and so empathetic to the needs of your employees that you—perhaps inadvertently—put their needs ahead of the team or the business.

Captain Empowerment. You have such a high value for fairness that you treat everyone the same way regardless of their competence or skill levels. Your mantra is “You can do it!” despite ample evidence to the contrary—and you think if you believe in people enough, they won’t let you down.

The Freedom Fighter. Your own need for freedom blinds you to the fact that not everyone has the same needs. You give people way more rope than they want and the result can be frustration—or even failure.

Horton the Elephant. Maisy the flaky bird flies south for a nonstop party while Horton sits on her eggs through rain, hail and snow. Are you Horton? Simply too patient for your own good and letting your people take advantage of you?

The Wuss. You let your need to be liked get the better of you, at great cost to your own success. You may suffer from aspects of some or all of the above conditions. What you know for sure is that you tolerate way too much and let your people walk all over you.

Is There A Cure?

The good news is that all of these behaviors stem from your being a generous and kind person—but they can really hurt you and your team. Stay tuned and I’ll go into a little more detail about each one over the next few weeks. In the meantime if you recognize yourself, one of your direct reports, or your boss here, note examples of these behaviors as you move through your days. The more specific and concrete you can be about behaviors that aren’t working, the easier it will be to shift them.

PS: Are there other behaviors you’ve seen that I’ve missed? If you have an idea for a different challenge or label, I would love to hear it.  Just add it to the comments section below!

About this column

Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard, and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Previous posts in this series:

The Well-Intentioned Manager’s New Year’s Resolution: Have More Fun

The Top Three Mistakes Good Managers Make

Managing Polarities: A Key Skill for the Well-Intentioned Manager


13 thoughts on “Setting Boundaries: 7 Ways Good Managers Get It Wrong

  1. Too funny and too true. Classic examples of the differences between being in “command” and exercising “control” over that which can be and should be controlled/managed. Small comfort that managers demonstrating these behaviors are masking their incompetence at more than just management skills.

  2. Reblogged this on Learning & Leading and commented:
    There are some great points raised here. In education the role of manager at the campus level is the administration. Lately I have been contemplating the supervisory aspect of myself as an admin. We must always keep before ourselves that we our goal is to improvement people (teachers) so that we may grow the potential for student learning in the classroom. We win most when we operate from a place of being no directive, when teachers are so vested they seek improvement. We then come alongside to provide support to help them realize their goals of improvement.
    Occasions will arise when a clear directive must be implemented and given but the majority of the time we can often reach a positive outcome utilizing the power of relationship.

  3. There is so much truth to this. I have been guilty of all of these at one time or another. The key is balancing caring about your people and meeting their needs with getting the company’s needs met. Leadership is not an easy job!

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