From time to time, we like to feature a post from a guest blogger to give our readers a more in-depth look at one of the subjects we feature in our summaries. Today’s post comes to us from Keith Merron, founder and managing partner of Avista Consulting Group. Merron offers us an interesting thought on improving leadership by establishing boundaries.
Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Mending Wall, ends with the statement “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The poem speaks to the mixed consequences of fences. They define personal space, and they separate. Good boundaries are like that as well.
Boundaries are crucial for leadership. Leaders that are not clear about expectations, goals, and values create ambiguous work places and the consequence is often confusion and unnecessary conflict. Boundaries create a sense of what is acceptable and not acceptable. They clarify. They focus. On the other hand, when held too rigidly, they create tension and a sense that there is no room for play.
Rules, for example, are boundaries. When applied rigidly they can be off-putting and people can feel patronized. Rules, when applied sensibly, can be relaxing. Good boundaries create trust.
One of the signatures of a conscious leader is to know when to apply boundaries and when to relax them in the service of something bigger. When values become rules, leaders act like “Big Brother”. When values are principles, they teach us and guide us. If they are too rigid, we lose our capacity to apply discretion. When they are too lax, they have no meaning. When decisions become rigid, we run the risk of being unable to adapt in the face of changing circumstances. When they are too loose, we are confused.
I believe that one of the key characteristics a leader needs to embody is the ability to be decisive and yet open. This means that the leader says: “I’m betting my money that this is the way to go, so let’s do it.” At the same time, the leader acknowledges that it may not be the right decision. A good leader remains open to learning, and discovering new information that calls for an alternative decision. This is a good boundary for a decision—held firmly but not too tightly.
Good boundaries make good leaders.
Keith Merron is founder and managing partner of Avista Consulting Group, an organizational consulting and leadership development firm dedicated to helping organizations with bold visions achieve sustainable high performance and industry leadership. Dr. Merron received his doctorate from Harvard University and is the author of Riding the Way: Designing Your Organization for Enduring Success, Consulting Mastery: How the Best Make the Biggest Difference, and he is currently completing his next book, Your Inner Compass: Living the Authentic Life You Were Truly Meant to Live. For more information visit www.remarkableleaders.com.