How To Set And Keep Boundaries

Jenny found herself working late again. It was already 9:30 p.m. and she had missed dinner with her family, bath time with the kids, and the promised story before bed. Just a few more homes to research and then she would leave the office. After all, these out-of-town clients were only in the area for the weekend, and promised to write an offer if they found the "just the right property". "My family understands, they know I do this for them", Jenny told herself. Even as she thought it, she swallowed hard and found it difficult to believe. This was the fourth weekend in a row she had worked late into the evening, and during the week her record was no better.

How could she say "No." to her clients? What if they left her and went to work with someone else? Without them she would not bring in the money needed to pay the bills, buy the kids clothes, and save for that vacation they kept talking about taking...someday.

Just then her phone buzzed with a new text, her clients sent her three more listings they wanted to see in the morning and asked her to make appointments. Jenny picked up the phone and texted her husband, "looks like I'm going to be a little longer, sorry, I promise tomorrow night is family night!", hit send and said a quick prayer that she would somehow figure out a way to keep that promise.

The Need For Boundaries

If Jenny's story sounds familiar, you are not alone. Many leaders struggle to set proper boundaries with the people they serve and lead.

In my coaching, I've experienced three major reasons why boundaries are needed. First, is the normal and natural desire to do whatever you can to serve people and meet their needs. This will often result in leaders losing focus and moving from one request to another.

Second, boundaries are needed because of a fear of loss which comes in the form of fearing the loss of a client or team member's trust, fear of losing an opportunity, or the fear of losing money or recognition. This is often referred to as a scarcity mentality - if you miss this opportunity there may not be another one for a long time.

And finally, boundaries are needed because leaders struggle to say, No. to a client. Somewhere along the line we all received training that told us the "customer is always right" or "the client comes first" and the result has been an unhealthy focus on meeting client needs - no matter what the cost.

Without boundaries you will never be able to live and lead with purpose. Without boundaries you will begin to drift and lose control of your life. You will find yourself feeling like a "slave" to those you serve and eventually will begin to resent them and their needs. Without proper balance, the late nights, going the extra mile, and always putting the customer first will lead to burnout, stress, and strained (potentially broken) relationships.

How To Set And Keep Boundaries

We all must set boundaries. Boundaries are healthy and we all agree that boundaries are needed. For example, our society has determined, and we all agree, that just because someone is thirsty it does not give them the right to enter your office, take the water off your desk and drink it. We consider that an invasion of your privacy and more importantly a violation of common decency to respect each other's personal health. This is a social boundary we all share because it has been communicated to us from an early age and we have accepted it as fair and reasonable.

Setting and keeping boundaries with the people you love, lead, and serve is no different and is essential to your long-term success and sanity. Here are five steps to help you set and keep boundaries in your life:

  1. Identify What Needs Protection - Boundaries are supposed to guard or protect something. What and who needs protection in your life? Is it your children, your spouse? Is it your health, finances, or your faith? What are the most important areas and relationships in your life that need you to live life with purpose and protect them from becoming an after-thought or lower priority?
  2. Create The Framework For Your Boundaries - There are four pillars that I believe you must use when setting up boundaries for the different areas of your life and leadership. First, there is your time. This establishes when you will begin and end work each day and how much time you will allocate for work on the weekend and in the evenings. Second, there is your communication. This establishes how you like to be communicated with, how people can communicate with you, and what sort of communication behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not. For example, shouting, name calling, late night texts, belittling, and making you feel guilty should all be banned. Third, there is your service expectations. This establishes the types of services and the level of services that people can expect from you. And finally, there are expectations for results when working with you.  For example, you do not perform miracles, you cannot promise certain feelings will be experienced, and you cannot always "save the day" or "make their dreams come true". Be clear and specific about what people can expect in terms of second mile service and operational excellence when working with you.
  3. Communicate Your Boundaries - You must layout your boundaries the first time you meet with a new client or team member. They need to know right away what they can expect and what you can provide for them. This brings clarity to the relationship and will actually build trust and respect with a client faster than not having any boundaries at all. When people "walk all over you" they do not respect you or really even like you. Unfortunately, for many leaders they invite people to do this by not setting any boundaries.
  4. Live Within Your Boundaries - You are the gate keeper and master of your domain. Do not allow yourself to breakdown your own boundaries because you feel bad, guilty, or pressure from within yourself. Your boundaries allow you to live a life of purpose and be the best version of yourself to those you love and lead. Don't sabotage yourself by breaking down your own boundaries.
  5. Enforce Your Boundaries - Learn when to say no and when to say yes to requests. Don't allow your clients to bully you, make you feel guilty, or pressure you into believing that if you don't meet their requests (demands) than your not good at what you do. Enforce your boundaries while treating people with dignity, honor, and respect and they will show the same to you. Let them know the why behind the boundaries when appropriate. Don't hesitate to say, "I take Saturdays off to be with my children and focus on personal priorities". They will admire you for it and respect you. If they don't, then refer them to someone else. Focus on an abundance mentality - there will always be opportunities to work with and serve people that respect you, your values, and priorities. 

Examples of Boundary Communication

Email Signature:

Dan Foster Office Hours: 9:00am to 6pm M-F By Appointment on Sundays Saturdays = Family Time!

Voicemail Message:

Hi you have reached the voicemail of Dan Foster. My business hours are from 9am to 6pm Monday through Friday and by appointment on Sunday. If you’ve reached this message after my normal business hours, I will return your call by 10am the next business day. I do take Saturdays off to be with my family and focus on my personal priorities. Please leave a detailed message so that I am prepared when I return your call. Thanks and have a wonderful day!

Have The Courage To Set Boundaries

One of my favorite reminders from Dr. Henry Cloud is that each of us is ridiculously in charge of our own life, business, and leadership. Have the courage to set boundaries in your life so that you are able to live, lead, and serve with greater purpose.

Make it a great day!

Coach Dan