Leadership Skills: Setting Boundaries

“No” is a complete sentence. ― Anne Lamott

Boundaries as DifferentiationSetting boundaries is difficult for most of us.

Somehow, we have been taught that if we don’t please others, it’s a bad thing. I have discovered just the opposite…trying to please others does not build goodwill or respect. Setting boundaries protects our personal space and builds respect in others. Sometimes people respond with anger. That’s not the fault of the person setting the boundary.

We have inherited customs from our family of origin, and those shape our emotions and how we make decisions. It’s important to understand what shaped us and how we now step into the fullness of who we are as leaders, being aware of our inherited traits and adding to those.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is not something that is mastered immediately. It’s a continuing process of discovery, definition, and delivery. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, and do not fear. The goal of the leader is not to be liked. The primary goal is to be respected.

Without healthy boundaries we drift away from what is beneficial for us, what we represent, and what’s good for the organization we lead.

Here are my 6 steps in setting healthy boundaries:

  1. Define your Guiding Principles – Guiding principles are statements on how we make decisions. This defines your boundaries if you have good principles. My blog post on principles is HERE. Managing self and setting self apart is done with guiding principles. To set boundaries, start with defining what you want and how you will make decisions. This is called Differentiation of Self in leadership concepts defined by Murray Bowen, M. D.
  2. Affirm your Right to Set Limits – It’s your life and your vision, so the decisions are yours. It’s OK to do this…you don’t need the permission of others.
  3. Prioritize You – This is self care. Care for self is critical. Leaders who give away their rights give away some of themselves. You are a priority only if you define it so. Do it.
  4. Rehearse – Setting and maintaining effective boundaries is somewhat counter-intuitive. Forming a new habit takes 31 days – 30 days to set the habit and one day to make sure that you’ve gotten it. Then, continue to rehearse. It takes a lifetime to master this skill.
  5. Learn to Be Assertive – Some people are passive, some are aggressive, and some are passive-aggressive…none of those styles work for me. Assert your right to make decisions for the benefit of yourself and others. When I facilitate group sessions, often the person who wants to commandeer the session is the one I have to reign in. This is also the first one to approach me at the end to tell me how effective I was. Assertive is good.
  6. Speak Directly – Don’t beat around the bush. Speak directly to the facts. Approach the conversation directly, consciously, and calmly. Use clear language and check for understanding.

I am amazed at how many leaders, even those in important and powerful positions, cannot set effective boundaries. They get burned out, stressed, overcommitted, and overworked many times because they just can’t say “no.”

Setting healthy boundaries often means saying “no.”

Can you just say, “No”?


Hugh Ballou

The Transformational Leadership Strategist TM

Subscribe to The Transformational Leadership Strategist by Email

(c) 2015 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.
Hugh Ballou (Author)