Leaders can get off course for a variety of reasons, however one of the main reasons is the inability to set boundaries. To be more specific, the inability to enforce boundaries is what so often contributes to workplace relationship problem and adds to the confusion. Where there is confusion, there is a chance for workplace drama. The answer is to understand how to set and enforce good boundaries.
Various Ways to Define Boundaries
There are many ways to define the word boundaries. One that I use quite often is "a frame around your choices,” i.e. you can choose which days you work from home, Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday, but not all four days. Another type of boundary is the line in the sand, i.e. you do this, and you get fired. Yet another form of a boundary is a deadline, i.e. the report is due no later than 5:00 PM on Friday the 15th of October. Boundaries help to keep us on track, going in the direction of our choice rather than being swayed by the wind, or tossed about by indecision.
Why Leaders Have a Difficult Time Enforcing Boundaries
So why do leaders often have a hard time enforcing boundaries? Leaders often have unidentified ulterior motives, such as the intention to be known as the most compassionate and understanding manager. One of my favorite authors Gary Zukav says, “If you don’t know your intention before an interaction, you will know it afterwards.” We often have blind spots about that, which gets us off track.
Getting Off Course One Degree at a Time
If you are a leader who loves people, the thing that will get you off course is your need to people please. Say for example you institute a new policy, and your team agrees that they will comply. Fast forward three weeks and people start complaining. “It’s unfair,” they say. “It worked just fine before,” another one says. “You just don’t understand,” says another.
So you make an exception. Then you make another. Then before you know it, you are 20 degrees off course. That may not be so bad, but what eventually happens is you end up at another island.., the one called “Making Everyone Happy,” which is located about another 70 degrees from "People Pleasing Island." Now you are at a 90-degree angle from your original mission and your integrity suffers.
The Integrity Gap and the Rescue Role
Two principles that will help you understand this: One is the “Integrity Gap” (chapter two in my book Stop Workplace Drama, and the other is the “Rescue Role” (chapter five).
An integrity gap is when you are divided in your intention. Yes, you want to get to your goal, but you also have a very strong desire to make everyone happy. Your biggest desire always wins.
If you operate from a “Rescue” position, you are people pleasing rather than leading. You continue to confuse what you need to do with what everyone else wants to do. You give up your time, you help over and over again but it’s not appreciated. You know you are off course by your results, but also because of how you feel: You are overwhelmed, tired, and resentful.
This YouTube video gives a 3-minute visual on how easy it is to get completely off course. And by the way, it’s never about the situation, the circumstances or your employees or followers. It’s always about your patterns. What patterns are within you that get you off course?
—Marlene Chism is a professional speaker, trainer and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama,” (Wiley 2011), and a regular contributor to MANAGING POWER.