I have recently resumed coaching an exceptional leader after a six-month break. In our first post-break coaching call, she updated me on some significant changes she has made at work. In a nutshell, she has achieved clarity on standards for herself and her team. To uphold these standards she has eliminated unproductive meetings and is no longer accessible to her team members around the clock.
However, in our conversation she didn’t lead with her standards. Instead, she questioned her boundaries. She was uncomfortable because she had always heard that boundaries are needed to keep other people away—and that weak people had weak boundaries and pushy people had pushy boundaries.
As we spoke, I shared the truth about boundaries: the reason we need boundaries is to protect and uphold our standards. The purpose of boundaries is supportive, not defensive.
The illustration that I feel best symbolizes the relationship between boundaries and standards is that of a lighthouse. A lighthouse is solidly constructed and tall. It is illuminated 24 hours a day and visible no matter what the weather. A lighthouse is also well fortified, typically set on the summit of a rocky island with large rocks buttressing the impact of the waves of the ocean well before they can hit the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is you, with your standards in place. Your boundaries are represented in the care with which you have situated the lighthouse for support and protection. Your boundaries keep you and your standards visible for all to see. Nice, eh?
Your boundaries help you define who you are. To effectively protect and support your standards, it’s likely that your boundaries will address two basic categories: your time and your emotions. Please consider the following questions to help you zero in on the boundaries you will need to claim and fortify.
- Do you have enough time?
- If not, why not?
- Is it because you say “yes” when you want to say “no”?
- Are you everyone’s go-to person for support or advice, or to get things done?
- Even though it tires you, do you secretly enjoy this go-to status?
- How do the demands others place on you—which raid your time and emotional strength— support your standards?
- If not, why not?
To counter against her previous tradition of giving away her time and emotions, my client appropriately set boundaries bigger than she initially thought she’d need. Here’s an example: Rather than thinking how everyone is counting on you to chair a committee, remind yourself that you have a standard of telling the truth without becoming defensive. You can practice a response (“I won’t be accepting any more committee work”) and have it ready to repeat as often as necessary. It will be uncomfortable, and it may surprise some people, but it is worth it.
Benefits of extensive boundaries:
- You show you have respect for yourself
- Caring friends, colleagues, and family members will endorse you for extending your boundaries to support your standards
- You’ll attract like-minded people
- You will no longer feel drained or violated
- Your standards will have the room to rise when you so choose
By the end of the call, my client was pleased to have shifted her thinking about the role of boundaries— from pushing others away to supporting herself and her standards.
Will setting boundaries work for you? Yes, it will. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
About the Author
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D., is a Coaching Solutions Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 130 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.