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The Banks of The River: Boundaries for Leaders

I distinctly remember being a brand-new director at the YMCA and going to my very first employee orientation.  We reviewed benefit packages, employee policies and procedures, and a million other things that have since left my memory.  However, something that will always stay with me was a conversation around culture and boundaries within the organization.  I remember being told many times during my 20 years with the Y, we talk about our culture frequently because we want to give you the “banks of the river” and then empower you to be excellent within the organization.  Boundaries were clear, and that was something that I always appreciated.

Do you have to work with others to achieve results?  For the vast majority of professionals, the answer is an emphatic “YES.”  One of the key aspects of driving quality results and creating a culture that breeds success is the setting of boundaries by leaders.  What are boundaries?  Henry Cloud, psychologist, and bestselling author of Boundaries for Leaders, says “Physical boundaries mark a visible property line that someone holds the deed to.”   Physical boundaries help us identify the area of property that we control or have responsibility for managing; these boundaries also give us guidance as to how we should engage with our neighbors.  Similarly, our boundaries at work should give clarity of responsibility, a sense of basic expectations and help set cultural norms for all members of the team.   “Good boundaries, both those that help us manage ourselves and lead others, always produce freedom, not control,” according to Dr. Cloud.   He also adds that boundaries are “made up of two essential things: what you create and what you allow.”   As leaders, investing time in developing and maintaining healthy boundaries will drive results, relationships, and retention.

A few areas to consider as you contemplate boundaries within the workplace:

  1. What is vision, the mission, and the key areas of focus for your organization? Leaders are responsible for ensuring the work that is being done is done in service to the overall goals of the organization.  Alignment of work to vision and mission is critical for driving high quality outcomes. According to Gallup, only “50% of employees clearly know what is expected of them at work every day.”  Setting clear boundaries around mission, vision and key areas of focus is a great strategy to ensure clarity for employees.  It also provides leaders with a great opportunity to evaluate if the work being done is moving the needle on the “important stuff.”
  2. What employee experience do you desire for your organization?  Boundaries provide clear guidelines for employee behavior and help to shape the culture for everyone involved with a respective team.  The cultural health of any team or organization is deeply impacted by the boundaries set by leaders.   As a leader, think critically about what you want your employee’s experience to reflect and the core values that are most important as you consider boundaries for your employees.
  3. What does employee growth and development look like within your team? As a leader the professional development of your team is another area where the boundaries that you set will determine the outcomes.  The priority that you place on growth and development will be reflected in the development of your team.  How you lead yourself, the empowerment of employees to seek growth and the space you create for development will be important considerations in developing your boundaries in this area.

While this list is not comprehensive, it should provide you with specific areas to consider as you begin conversations about boundaries within your organization.  If you want to further engage in conversations around boundaries, join us for our upcoming Employment Vertical or Women’s Vertical.

Kim Derry

Kim Derry

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