The fundamental task of a leader is to create outcomes for his or her organization. No matter what the nature of the company, the leader must be focused on performing at high levels, and on resourcing his people, in order to produce significant results. Having and executing the appropriate boundaries are a key aspect of this foundational role. This article will outline the basic principles of great leadership with boundaries.
The property line. The best description of a boundary is a property line. That is, boundaries define what the leader is, and is not, responsible for. Boundaries clarify the reality of the leader’s role and duty. For example, while the ultimate success or failure of the company rests on the leader’s desk, he cannot also be responsible for the roles of every person who reports to him, which is a typical micromanaging problem. He must be clear about his own duties, as well as those of others, especially his direct reports. There are three type of boundaries that can be very helpful to the leader.
1. Organizational boundaries. The leader is to create an organizational clarity in which people know where they fit, and what they are to do. This is where a well-defined organizational structure is key. Great leaders provide specific roles, responsibilities and expectations for their people. While there is room for freedom, creativity and personality style within that, a healthy company has a good amount of structure. Lack of boundaries creates confusion, redundancy and ineffectiveness. Ask those who report to you, ad hoc, what their roles and responsibilities are. The answer can be a surprise!
2. “Yes” and “no.” Great leaders know when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” That is, they are constantly experiencing requests for time, money or resources from people within and without their organization. This is the natural course of events in business. However, many leaders feel guilty or overresponsible, and say “yes” when they or their resources are overextended. This then leads to less focus on their end. It also inhibits autonomy and responsibility from their direct reports, and does not lead to growth. Clear boundaries help this process. A solid “no”, as well as a solid “yes”, provides definition for the leader and the organization.
3. Effective confrontation. A necessary but tough part of leadership is to be effective in direct but caring confrontational conversations. The leader who can have those difficult talks with others about problems in performance, behavior or attitudes, and still maintain alliance, is ahead of the game. Clear boundaries help you to tell the truth when it’s time to tell the truth, and achieve good results.
Look at boundaries as simply another set of core competencies. As you develop your ability to be organizationally clear, able to say “no”, and confront well, you extend your reach and your impact for the good of all.