There are many circumstances and times in your career when it behooves you to ask, “How far can I go?” By asking this question, you assess your chances of success in what you are doing. Say a co-worker or manager has crossed a boundary with you. When you ask this question it helps you consider what reactions and responses you could receive as you protect your boundaries.
This question also has relevance in relationship to your independence and creativity. What are the lines you cannot cross in your organization’s culture? If you find yourself restricted and are not able to go as far as you like, perhaps some reflection is called for on whether the culture you are in is right for you.
It would be great if you lived in a world with no limits. However, limits do exist – some are imposed arbitrarily and some with good reason. Ultimately though, you are the one who answers the question, “How far can I go?”
If you do not draw personal boundaries, you can get trampled in the work world. Is there something in your work life that has gone too far? If the answer is “yes”, then it is time to say “Enough!”.
There are a lot of situations that can cross boundaries at work: people not showing respect, things of importance to you being ignored by others, compensation that does not reflect the value of your output, disregard of your mental and physical health by unreasonable demands and constant stress or a dysfunctional culture that hampers productivity.
There are also many ways to communicate and set your boundaries when you need to. It is best to find your own way to do so, a way that aligns with your values and style. A few things to keep in mind as you set boundaries:
• respond calmly rather than react emotionally
• use your emotional intelligence
• think things out, especially possible outcomes and how you will deal with them
In managing, you are often asked to stretch – do more with less, tolerate unpleasant situations, support policies and processes you may not love. Some stretching is expected in any organization. But, where do you draw the line? What are your non – negotiables as a manager?
My non – negotiables as a manager include: treating my team with respect and dignity and expecting others to as well; enough transparency from others so that my team and I have what we need to do the work expected of us; and clarity of expectations, all around.
Your non – negotiables may line up with your personal values or come from hard-won experience. It is useful to identify them, as they serve as boundaries that can keep you in balance and integrity. Being unaware of your non – negotiables can put you in a position where you do not see lines being crossed and get yourself and your team in sticky situations.
If you know your non – negotiables as a manager, you will be able to recognize when things have gone too far and communicate your needs and expectations clearly.
It can be funny when we use animals to describe human behavior. It has its usefulness, though, by letting us take a step back and use an image to understand someone better. I’ve heard people be compared to peacocks – showy, colorful, in your face, demanding that you see them. One of the challenges of working in teams is to find your way with a wide variety of personalities. How do you make it work?
A first step is to be true to yourself and how you feel about members of your team. Own and be aware of your gut reactions to people. Then, spend some time observing people that are not that easy to work with. See what you can learn about them and what makes them tick. From there, figure out how you will interact with them and what boundaries you must draw, keeping in mind you are part of a team and that you want the team to succeed.
By being aware and true to yourself, you will develop the skill to work effectively with a wide variety of the animal kingdom. It’s a jungle out there.
Boundaries can be seen as limiting and constricting – something to avoid. If used in your own interest, however, the opposite is true – boundaries can set you free. How? By keeping out things that do not serve you, creating the time you need to manage well, eliminating people and things that drain your energy and creating space for things that fuel you.
The tricky part comes with setting boundaries. There is plenty of room for conflict, misunderstandings and more energy drains, if you do not set your boundaries clearly and calmly. How to do it?
First, get clear on why you want to set the boundary. For example, you may want to stop a constant flow of interruptions during your workday, because they are counterproductive and work is not getting done at the rate you want. You could either set specific “open office” hours for non – emergency situations or specific “closed office” hours to have concentrated time to work.
Second, communicate the boundary well. Make your communication about you, not others. Be clear and state your reason for setting the boundary. Be open to what others have to say, but stay firm on your need for a boundary.
Third, stick to it. Whatever the boundary is, do not relent. You may make changes, but the end result has to be improvement of the situation that created the need for the boundary in the first place.
Boundaries, well considered and well placed, can set you free to manage effectively and lessen the stress of your everyday.
As a manager, communicating is a mainstay of your work. Frequently, communications can go awry. But what do you do when communications totally break down?
I was coaching a client who worked in a political campaign. Pressure was high and internal competition was fierce. The campaign environment did not have space for discord or drama. He was working with another person, his peer, who insisted on berating him and criticizing what he did in e mails and copying them widely to other members of the campaign. It was a game and very irritating. At one point, he thought these communications could do him significant harm.
It was time to deal with it. First, he set some boundaries, calling the person on their inaccuracies and tactics. It didn’t work. So, he went to his manager and instead of complaining, he calmly told his manager that he was not going to work this way and set his boundaries. His manager responded, told the other person to lay off on the e mails and it was done. Sometimes things can be worked out and sometimes they can’t. In this case, the action taken by the manager allowed my client to get back to work and get the job done.
Resilience: The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. *
What shape were you in when you started managing? What shape are you in now? Granted, things change. But, are you in better, equal or worse shape than when you started managing? Managing is not about draining your reserves or changing your shape. All are served when you bring your best self to managing. Sure, there is “compressive stress” in managing – that is a given. Surviving and thriving as a manager depends on your resilience and ability to recover from stress. Things that build your resilience include: boundaries – drawn with people, time and space, getting away from work on a regular basis, articulating your needs, approaching tasks with a sense of realism and truth, focusing on creating resilient teams and self – care.
There is an ebb and flow to balance, like the tides of the ocean. How then, do you achieve balance within this movement? You cannot do it with schedules and boundaries alone. Balance is aided by a sense of flow; a realization that hour – to – hour things change and within that change, you must maintain your overall commitment to balance.
An example may be that you have a project that will require an all-out effort for the next three days. You commit to doing what it takes to get the project done, but before you start, you address the effect doing so will have on your balance. You look at the elements you balance in your life, say family, physical exercise or relaxation, and you make a commitment to give time to them right after the project is completed. It’s a re-balancing, after losing balance a bit in order to get the project done.
By acknowledging the ebb and flow of balance, you can attain a level of balance in your life that really works.
Much too often, I hear from managers that they are in an organization that is working them to death and, at the same time, communicating that they are dispensable. There’s a major disjoint in this. An organization is asking more of a manager, often way beyond reason, and at the same time is refusing to recognize the extra (and often extraordinary) contributions the manager is making. The dispensability message may be subtle, but is heard clearly by managers and employees. No additional income, no recognition, “bottom line” justifications, more time, less resources, we can find someone else if you cannot do it – a recipe for burnout and frustration. The tactic is weighted significantly in the favor of the organization, at the expense of their employees. Something is radically wrong here.
Are you in a situation like this? Best to evaluate the toll it is taking on you and what your options are. Save yourself. There may be no one else watching out for you. Be confident of your value, set boundaries and don’t let anyone run you into the ground. You are worthy of more than this.
Seth Godin posits in his book Tribes that managers are not leaders. He says managers manage by using the authority the factory has given them; that leaders don’t care much about organization and authority, they use passion and ideas to lead people. Later, Godin provides an example of a researcher at the Pentagon who acted as a leader and changed the way generals think about the military. If this can be done at the bottom, it can be done in the middle.
Managers must lead. They cannot let the organization constrain them. They must know the environment they manage in and figure out how they can make change effectively. It takes a lot to know the game and not get wedged in by it. Managers must transcend their organization and lead creatively.
If you are a manager caught in the chaos of an organization, step back.
Think strategically about how the change you want can happen. Consider the hinges that keep the organization together and which ones can be moved. Who are the movers in your organization? How do they make change? What is the language of change in your organization — profit? savings? bottom line? competitive edge? How does the change you want to see get communicated in that language? What is within your control and what is not? Do you have allies? Can you create a tribe to lead the change? Is there a tribe working against you?
Know your boundaries. Is the change you seek essential to your work? Will harm be done if it is not made? Can you live without it? How far are you willing to go in seeking it?
Act. Without leading, you atrophy. Leading requires agile, savvy steps. Keep your focus on people and results. Change the organization you are managing in by leading.