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Daily Leadership Thought #128 – Establish Healthy Boundaries, Then Be Disciplined About It

September 6, 2023

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Most of the unhappiness, conflict, and stress I see in the workplace and life these days comes down to an inability to establish healthy boundaries.  By their very nature boundaries define us and indicate what we are willing and not willing to tolerate.  They are also a means to carve out what is important to us. Without boundaries you are simply making it up as you go along and dealing with life reactively without a compass. You also make it confusing and unpredictable for those around you who look to you for direction and consistency.

I have a colleague who is committed to having dinner with his family every night and not working weekends. As a result, he rarely struggles with work life balance issues because he has established his home relationships and non-work time as an equal priority. He is also more successful than many people I know who work 80-hour work weeks and pride themselves on their work ethic more than anything else.  His belief is that you will get done what you must get done within the timeframe you have if it is planned properly.

On a related point, I know a successful turnaround CEO who says the first sign of a struggling leader is that they lose sense of balance and perspective and think that working harder is always the answer. The paradox is the harder they work the worse it often gets. He believes that a leader must be well rounded in his/her interests, happy at home and have the energy, focus and stamina required to do the job well, which means they can’t always be on the edge of physical burnout and/or life imbalance.

I also have many friends and colleagues who have made their own health and fitness a priority. They will schedule work around their workout routines. They also tend to be very selective about their diet and what they put in their body. In about every case, the results speak for themselves.

Lastly, I’m fascinated (and often disturbed) by what people will tolerate in terms of personal behavior from their colleagues, friends, and family members. I will paraphrase a belief held by one of my sadly departed yet esteemed colleagues, Pat Murray, that “we are what we tolerate.” If you have certain expectations of performance, courtesy, and behavior from others, then be clear about it and stick to your beliefs. When lines are crossed, let people know politely and why. Of course, it is obvious that you also must model that behavior yourself. Yes, all relationships are a two-way street, but like all streets they require dividing lines, soft shoulders, and curbs and/or guard rails to mark the end of the road and establish safe boundaries.