Setting healthy boundaries is not only beneficial to the entrepreneur or executive, but also to the organisations they lead and the society they operate in, writes Ndumi Hadebe
It’s common business knowledge that leading is one of four components of the management process—planning, organising, leading, and controlling. Whilst all components are equally important, an executive or entrepreneur’s capacity to lead effectively depends highly on their level of self-awareness and ability to mobilise themselves and those they lead in the direction of a desired goal.
An individual’s boundaries are an important piece of the puzzle and a by-product of self-awareness.
Contrary to popular belief, personal boundaries are not about building walls around you that make one inaccessible. Boundaries are about you, as an executive or entrepreneur, being crystal clear about how you preserve and manage the continuous demand on your key resources—time, money, and energy (T.M.E.). The primary reason for strategically managing your T.M.E is so that subsequently you have more of these resources for yourself, which can be traded in exchange for a specific return and/or be donated/given to others to empower themselves.
Boundaries are based on the awareness of one’s personal truth, which is informed by their needs, wants, thoughts, and feelings, making them unique to each individual.
Leaders are expected to be excellent in competencies that are associated with good leadership such as being authentic, effective in communication, decision-making, be results oriented, have integrity, and a perfect balance of leading whilst being led—all of which speak to an above average level of emotional intelligence.
Before we arrive at how a lack of boundaries impacts one’s capacity to lead, let’s first look at the process in which a person has to follow to set their personal boundaries.
The most efficient way to put this into practice is by identifying boundaries per sector or area of life—i.e., physical health, career/vocation, finances, social, emotional, spiritual, family, and relationships.
Lack of boundaries negatively impacts one’s leadership in the following ways:
Self-Leadership and Results
Typically, the discussion of boundaries focusses on boundaries with other people. Yet more important is having boundaries with the self. This speaks to one’s capacity to exercise discipline and commitment to what they’ve identified as priorities. Leaders that lack boundaries with themselves find it challenging to lead themselves, which in turn compromises their ability to achieve desired results for themselves and the teams they lead.
Authenticity and Communication
The second step of the process of setting healthy boundaries is owning one’s boundaries—i.e., releasing all judgment attached to boundaries being different to those of other people. This step is important because fully owning one’s boundaries determines their ability to express their personal truth—whether it’s for the purpose communicating boundaries or company policy and strategy with confidence and conviction. This is particularly evident in the difference that can be observed between a person reading someone else’s speech as opposed to when expressing their own heart-felt views or feelings on a particular matter—their body language becomes more expressive and aligns with what they are saying. Healthy boundaries are the enabler of authentic self-expression and authentic leadership.
Decision-making is a task that leaders undertake daily in organisations and businesses. Often, a step that is missed in leadership coaching is the importance of being fully aligned with your own personal truth when going through a decision-making process. Yet, consideration of one’s personal truth is critical because it determines levels ownership of the decision—which is necessary for taking responsibility and accountability. Leaders who are not clear on their boundaries are likely to delay making decisions. One, because they find the idea of looking into themselves overwhelming and, as such, subconsciously resist it. Secondly, they are subconsciously committed to avoiding taking responsibility and accountability; procrastinating the decision as much as possible. Procrastinating the decision delays implementation.
Ethics and Integrity
In the study of boundaries, the majority of people report having difficulty with saying NO. This overarching issue makes most leaders vulnerable and weakens their commitment to ethics and integrity. A strong sense of self and alignment with one’s truth empowers leaders to say NO when they mean No and say YES when they mean YES—provided it’s what they believe to be ethical, right, and fair.
Leading a life founded on healthy boundaries empowers an entrepreneur or executive to excel in other aspects of managing, namely planning, organising, and controlling. What’s being planned, organised or controlled on a daily basis is the collective resources of the organisation—time, money and energy. The entire process of management becomes chaotic without clearly set boundaries. Boundaries wouldn’t be such an issue if components of one’s life didn’t intersect or influence each other. For example, a leader with a lack of boundaries in his finance sector is likely to end up with high levels of debt, followed by stress and anxiety which in turn affects their mental health and subsequently their ability to manage and lead effectively.
A lack of boundaries shows up in subtle ways, but bring big and often long-term impacts:
People that lack healthy boundaries perceive themselves as less than, often putting others on a pedestal. Put differently, people who lack boundaries have a lower sense of self-worth. With a lower sense of self-worth comes undervaluing of the self and it becomes evident in the way in which they give time, money, and energy away for free or for far less than market value. Negotiating from a disempowered position means the leader gives away more than he could have when transacting for the business.
Setting a price/fee
Linked to the previous point, a lower sense of self-worth is embedded on a perception that naturally undervalues what one has to offer—whether it’s a product or service. People who lack boundaries believe that their service or product must be cheaper for it to sell. People with healthy boundaries, therefore, a higher sense for worth, believe that the value they bring to the customer is what gets customers to buy their service.
Unclear terms of engagement
Particularly for entrepreneurs, consultants, and freelancers, it’s easy to get excited by the thrill of having an assignment without clear rules of engagement for binding both parties. This practice of not setting boundaries comes from the fear from the party that perceives themselves as lesser of the two (in this case, the owner of a small business)—fear that insisting on a contract or formal agreement might rock the boat with the client. This abandoning of a standard boundary is a clear sign of weak boundaries and when things don’t go as planned, it backfires mostly for the weaker link.
Struggling to speak your truth
The most obvious symptom of lack of boundaries is the habit of people-pleasing—saying YES when meaning No and NO when you mean YES. A symptom that is not obvious would be feeling a lump in your throat when about to stand up for something you believe in—i.e., disagreeing with a client or wanting to pose a difficult but necessary question. This is caused by the conflict within the self—one party knowing what your truth is and the other judging you for your feelings or views, particularly they are different to those of people around you.
Not holding people accountable
Setting boundaries and not following through with enforceable consequences is counterintuitive. When people who violate boundaries in personal and business spaces are not held accountable, it implies that the boundary, policy or regulation were a mere tick-box exercise.
Conscious leaders are committed to being held accountable and they exercise courage to hold others accountable.
Setting healthy boundaries is not only beneficial to the entrepreneur or executive, but it is to the organisations they lead and the society they operate in.
Ndumi Hadebe is the author of ‘Handle Black Tax Like a PRO – Setting Boundaries, Improving Relationships, and Achieving Freedom’.