This week’s book of the week is Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. More than likely if you are a leader you are very aware of boundaries. You are aware of boundaries that are kept and boundaries that are broken. What you may not think about is all the different types of boundaries that leaders are responsible for, including…
“Leaders define the boundaries, and successful leaders define them well in several key areas:
- The vision, the focus, the attention, and the activities that create forward movement are defined by leaders.
- The emotional climate of the organization and its culture is created and sustained by leaders.
- The unity and connectedness of the organization and the teams are built or fragmented by leaders.
- The thinking and beliefs of the organization are sown and grown by leaders.
- The amount and kinds of control and empowerment that people have are given and required by leaders.
- The performance and development of their teams and direct reports are stewarded by leaders.
- The leadership of oneself, which entails establishing one’s own boundaries and stewardship of the organization, is required by leaders.”¹
And while there are some that we may be really good at as leaders, there are also several instances where we acknowledge we could improve. On paper these separate boundaries strategies may look pretty good and seem pretty doable, but in the grit of the moment this list could easily fade into blame, emotion, or frustration.
In a moment we’ll talk about the three key strategies that you can implement to create space for your team to focus on what is most important. Before we talk about those three key strategies, lets talk about some important boundary setting. As described by Dr. Henry Cloud, “…they set limits on confusion and distraction. They prohibit practices and behaviors that sow the seeds of a negative emotional climate in any way, realizing that toxic behavior and emotions impede high performance.”¹
Toxic behavior can ruin any set of plans no matter how good they are. One person on your team with toxic behavior that is allowed to persist can take an entirely healthy team and create utter chaos. And as easy as it is to get angry or upset with those who have these behaviors, allowing them in the slightest is really what is within your control. “You will get what you create and what you allow. Your boundaries will define and make that happen as you step up and set them.”²
Part of being a leader, is taking ownership for what you are in control of. No you can’t control people, but you can change behavior by what you allow. Sometimes things have been allowed to go on for so long, even in just a small way. Then, when we finally try to address it, it becomes much harder. All along through our actions we’ve been saying, “it’s okay.” Boundary setting is not always fun, however now lets talk about how boundary setting works for your team.
The 3 Keys to Focused Leadership
To talk about the three keys to focused leadership, we first need to throw in some quick biology of the brain and how it functions. We’re going to talk about the three executive functions of the brain. Harvard University defines the executive functions and self regulations skills as, “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”³
“In brain terminology, executive functions are needed to achieve any kind of purposeful activity—such as reaching a goal, driving a vision forward, conquering an objective. Whether driving a car or making and selling cars, the brain relies on three essential processes:
- Attention: the ability to focus on relevant stimuli, and block out what is not relevant: ‘Pay attention!’
- Inhibition: the ability to ‘not do’ certain actions that could be distracting, irrelevant, or even destructive: ‘Don’t do that!’
- Working Memory: the ability to retain and access relevant information for reasoning, decision-making, and taking future actions: ‘Remember and build on relevant information.’”4
So for our brains to be able to function correctly we need, “…to be able to: (a) focus on something specific, (b) not get off track by focusing on or being assaulted by other data inputs or toxicity, and (c) continuously be aware of relevant information at all times.”4
When our teams are able to do these three things they are able to function at their highest level. We as leaders get them there by defining boundaries as listed at the top of the page. So in the heat of the moment we can ask ourselves three key questions that can quickly take us to the focused team we desire.
Three Key Questions for Focused Leadership
- Do these behaviors/actions that I’m allowing make it easier or harder for my team(s) to pay attention.
- Are these behaviors/actions making it easier or inhibiting my team to their jobs?
- Am I or anyone else giving an overload/incomplete amount of information to my team and therefore prohibiting them from creating a space for habit, specific knowledge base, and growth towards their specific mission to the organization’s overall success?
These three questions allow us to quickly see through the BS and realize whether or not we as leaders are creating the optimal space for our teams to work in, and whether or not our leadership is focused.
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Vigilant Poster Girl
Every week I talk about a book that we’re reading on leadership and self-development. You can follow along by going to the Book of the Week page at the top. And order a book (either kindle, audible, or paperback) by clicking on the photo of that book. When you do that, it also helps fund this site.
- Cloud, Henry. Boundaries for Leaders (pp. 16-17). HarperBusiness. Kindle Edition.
- Cloud, Henry. Boundaries for Leaders (p. 19). HarperBusiness. Kindle Edition.
- Harvard University, article “Executive Function & Self-Regulation”
- Cloud, Henry. Boundaries for Leaders (p. 27). HarperBusiness. Kindle Edition.