A few months ago, I encountered a setback that could’ve ruined me. I was preparing for a life-changing step in my career after being hand-selected for an incredible opportunity to lead at an even higher level. I reached out to a mentor of mine in hopes that he would have some encouraging words to share on my first day. Instead, I was met with an utter lack of faith in my abilities when he
expressed worry that I wasn't strong enough to handle this new chapter. It stopped me in my tracks, probably because I hadn’t set a boundary for how much I’d let other people’s opinions impact my own self worth.
So there I was, after years of working towards this incredible position, staring opportunity in the face, and I’m having to come to terms with someone I respected (at the time, at least) telling me I probably wasn’t good enough to handle the job I was on my way out the door to go do.
I spent a long time second-guessing myself. Was he right? Should I trust his perspective as a successful leader? After a good cry in my car, I collected myself enough to think clearly, and was able to harness it as an opportunity for growth and boundary setting, resulting in an even stronger version of myself.
As leaders, the answer isn’t always to work harder or spend more energy striving for success. Sometimes it’s cutting back in all of those areas by setting healthy boundaries for yourself. As a leader, the most important person you need to lead is yourself, and boundary-setting is one of the most effective ways you can improve your own performance.
What are - and aren’t - healthy boundaries?
Boundaries give you control over the energy you let into your space. We all have limits, and boundaries help us communicate those limits both to ourselves and to others in our personal and professional lives. Here are a few examples of healthy boundaries:
Boundaries that set limits on our personal space - this boundary is especially popular as we navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; many of us prefer to keep our physical distance from others
Boundaries with regard to our sexuality - these boundaries define what we are or aren’t willing to do during our time in the bedroom, and with whom we’re comfortable sharing that space
Boundaries of our possessions - who we do and don’t trust with our personal belongings, and the precautions we take to keep our possessions safe
Ethical boundaries - personal “rules” and guidelines that we are or aren’t willing to cross
Digital boundaries - another growingly popular boundary as we venture further and further into the digital age, setting limits on your screen time is good for your physical and mental health
Creating boundaries can be one of the best ways to practice self care, especially because boundary-setting helps safeguard the things that are most important to you.
A common misconception is that boundaries are about keeping other people out, but that’s not true. Boundaries are a very personal practice, they’re about allowing you to be closer to what’s important to you through a careful allocation of your most important resource - time.
As a leader, you likely want to ensure that your team has everything they need to do their job. You might be guilty of answering the phone after hours, answering emails before you get out of bed, or putting hobbies on the back burner. This happens because you haven’t yet set solid boundaries.
Remember, boundaries don’t keep people out, they prioritize your own resources. It’s important not to let your perception of boundaries keep you from setting them. Boundaries can be flexible. In the event of emergencies and special occasions, flexing your boundaries might be the best thing for you and others, they shouldn’t make you feel trapped.
Why are boundaries important?
As we’ve already covered, boundaries give you control over who and what you let into your space. Boundary-setting allows you to conserve your emotional energy, because they make it easier to keep draining things out of your headspace. In the end, setting boundaries leads to the ability to be a more genuine version of yourself, not tied down by things or events or people who drain you of those precious resources.
How can you set healthy boundaries?
Define what needs to change.
Start by making a list. Write down all of the things you have an inherent right to, all of the things and resources you need to protect. Think of all the things most valuable to you. Usually, your first inclination and intuition won’t steer you wrong.
Figure out what you need to protect.
For me, it was my after hours time. Many of us have experienced an overbearing boss who feels comfortable calling at all hours of the day or night, but if you’re like me and you prioritize family time after work, you know that it isn’t practical to allow people to call you once you’ve left the office (virtual or otherwise). In my house, there’s a rule that if you aren’t physically present under my roof between the hours of 5pm and 8pm, you don’t get my attention. Sorry, not sorry, boss.
Communicate your boundaries clearly.
When you first begin setting boundaries, you’ll need to tell the people in your life that this is your new way of operating. You can clarify that it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with you. You might even have to “retrain” people who have come to believe they can overstep those boundaries, and they might continue to make attempts at first. But eventually, they’ll begin to understand and respect your boundaries, maybe even implementing some of their own. Don’t be afraid to set consequences if people are struggling to respect your boundaries!
Boundaries Beyond the Workplace
Especially if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s important to set boundaries outside of your career. Protecting what’s important to you doesn’t only mean family - you could set boundaries to help you invest in your career, prioritize “me” time, etc. In the end, boundaries made me a better person to be around, and I know they’ll do the same for you.
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