Leaders are “can do” people and, therefore, can sometimes take on responsibilities for many things, including responsibilities that could easily be managed by the people around them. A basic principle for success in leadership and life is maintaining a reasonable ratio of responsibilities to personal resources. When the responsibilities that we take on substantially exceeds our personal resources, we are spread too thin to be effective in all that we wish to accomplish. In the book “Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge” by Dr. Henry Cloud outlines seven areas in which leaders need to maintain boundaries in order to maximize our effectiveness as a leader.
This book is one in a series of books that began with “Boundaries” by Dr. Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, published in 1992. The series includes books regarding boundaries in marriage, parenting, and other areas. The basic premise of boundaries is to clearly define where our responsibilities end and other peoples’ responsibilities begin. We are personally effective when we manage and protect those responsibilities within our boundaries and allow others’ to manage their responsibilities that are outside of our boundaries.
Leaders must accomplish the organization’s goals with and through the people around them. Leaders are responsible for providing things like direction and empowerment, setting the stage for the team’s efforts, but their accomplishments are the sum total of what is achieved by those within their sphere of influence. Therefore, leaders need to focus on the things that are within their vital responsibilities and they need to enable and allow team members to manage their own responsibilities. Boundaries for leaders can be defined as what leaders create and what they allow. The seven areas of boundaries that Dr. Cloud describes as necessary for leaders to be most effective are summarized below:
- Boundaries that focus attention on what is crucial and inhibit distractions from everything non-crucial, while keeping the crucial ongoing and current.
Dr. Cloud refers to the executive functions of the brain, i.e., to focus on the specific thing to be accomplished, to not get off track by losing or shifting focus, and to continuously be aware of relevant information. In the same way, the leader needs to guide the organization.
- Boundaries that build a positive emotional climate that leads to high performance brain functioning.
This boundary is about creating positive relationships while maintaining high expectations. Negative emotions lead to a flee, fight, or freeze response while positive emotions broaden peoples thinking and responses. Yet a leader needs to expect, even demand, a high level of performance. The integrated leader is able to be “hard on the issue, soft on the person.”
- Boundaries that keep people connected to each other and inhibit fragmentation, compartmentalization and isolation of people, teams, departments, or business units.
Organizations function most effectively when its people are working together. People function most effectively when they share connection with those around them. Dr. Cloud lists the ingredients of shared connection as shared purpose, awareness, nonverbal cues, collaboration, coherent narrative, conflict resolution, emotional regulation, emotional reflection, emotional repair, and listening. It is the leader’s responsibility to manage these ingredients in order to enable team effectiveness.
- Boundaries that steward the dominant thinking paradigms that rule the organization, keeping the dominant thinking optimistic and proactive as opposed to pessimistic and powerless. No negative or victim thinking patterns allowed to take root.
Leaders need to continually audit their own thinking and the organization’s thinking to identify and root out any negative thinking. Helplessness thinking has a way of progressing from personal to pervasive to permanent. Instead of allowing this, the leader needs to change the paradigm to positive thinking by reframing or identifying incremental steps of progress.
- Boundaries that align people with the behaviors that they can actually control and that specifically lead to results, empowering them to do the activities that actually “move the needle” of measureable results, as opposed to focusing on what they cannot control and/or is not directly related to real results. Aligning them with the true drivers of measureable results.
Neuroscience has shown that the more experiences people have of being in control, the better their “thinking brain” functions. Leaders who continually help their team focus on what they individually and collectively can control and accomplish are most effective.
- Boundaries that structure teams around well-defined purposes with values and behaviors which lead to high performance through defined roles, activities, and mutual accountability, along with the ability to diagnose, correct and fix what is not working quickly.
A team is not just a group of people but it is a group that has a shared purpose or goal. It has an identity, a culture, and a set of values and behaviors. A key element for team effectiveness is trust within the team. Only after defining or creating these things can it operate as a unit to accomplish its purpose.
- Boundaries on themselves that keep them from being a closed system, missing and repeating patterns, not getting honest feedback, falling into problematic thinking patterns, leading out of fear, avoiding necessary organizational change, not quarantining weaknesses, and losing control of their time and energy.
Leaders can allow the reality of the circumstances or mission to define them. They can become reactive and spend all of their time and energy on the urgent while ignoring the vital. Leaders also need to lead themselves. This requires strong self-awareness and seeking feedback and outside input. With self-awareness, it then requires setting boundaries on fears, weaknesses, patterns, and the use of their personal resources.
I am a big fan of Dr. Henry Cloud because we are generally on the same page in many respects. Every interaction that I have with Henry tends to expand my thinking or encourage greater depth of thought. Nevertheless, I thought that this book was somewhat forced in trying to piggyback on the “Boundaries” franchise that Drs. Cloud and Townsend have created. I like the boundaries concept and there are a lot of good thoughts about leadership in “Boundaries for Leaders” but I would more highly recommend Dr. Cloud’s book “Integrity” as a better representation of his leadership thinking.