Dec 2, 2022

How to Set Boundaries as a Leader

Our yellow couch was the place of absolute transformation. We sat together, looking at the excel sheet showing our total debt had crossed into the six figures…not including our house.

My chest tightened and my heart physically hurt, almost like I was drowning. I guess because we were drowning in credit card, student loan, and car debt.

In addition to the pain, I was angry. We had walked ourselves into this situation by trying to give more than we had. We wanted to be team players, part of the community. We wanted to be the people others could count on. The ones who came early and stayed late. The ones who gave extra when the requests came.

We thought we could give our way into security and belonging. Instead, we were slowly destroying ourselves because we had no boundaries.

Now limited by more debt than ever seemed possible to repay, we had choices to make. It seemed so mathematical. Stop spending. Pay down the debt. But we as humans are far more complicated than basic algebra. Our emotions wrapped around every part of this decision.

We could ignore the problem and keep giving away more than we had, ignoring our own needs and feeling obligated. We could justify our behavior because it was “for others.” We could stop spending on everything and have no fun, just the bare necessities and assume other people knew we were struggling.

Burnt out and exhausted, we had to wrestle with far more than the math. We had to confront an uncomfortable truth: 

Lack of boundaries is self-betrayal.

How many times have you done this? If I just stay a little later, I’ll prove myself worthy for that promotion. If I’m the one who volunteers for the extra project that is outside my role and time capacity, I won’t be the one laid off. Or some other experience when you have neglected healthy boundaries?

Boundaries are hard work, and I believe most of us weren’t taught how to set healthy boundaries with our hearts, our time, our money…really the whole of us as humans.

Three ways to start setting boundaries

  1. You are responsible for yourself.
    You are responsible for your feelings, thoughts, and actions. You’re probably pretty good with that. But what you may struggle with is taking responsibility for other people’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. That is outside your boundaries.
  2. Ask yourself the question, “What is mine to do?”
    Often we jump into situations we assume we need to handle, when it’s simply over-functioning. Suzanne Stabile taught me this question, and it is one of the most powerful when learning boundaries. Not what should I do, but what is MINE to do?
  1. Clear is kind.
    Brené Brown reminds us that when we clearly state what we need and want, that is a kindness to others. When you set a boundary, others can’t see the imaginary line unless you state it.

While it looks so simple on the screen, boundaries take practice and the coordinated effort of your heart, mind, and actions. Yet without boundaries, you’re trying to earn your belonging by harming yourself.

Imagine the security of belonging fully to yourself. The freedom of saying no without guilt. The liberty to give without compulsion. These feelings of joy come with setting healthy boundaries. 

It’s been 16 years since we sat on that yellow coach and began paying down that $100k+ debt. Freedom started with setting boundaries. The wonderful thing about healthy boundaries is they multiply into all areas of your life. Healthy boundaries have been the way to healthy self-leadership and then the leadership of others.

How are you at setting boundaries? What about the other aspects of your life as a leader? Do you know what other areas you need to examine?

It’s probably time for a little reflection. Register for Catalyst Impact: Leadership Skills Audit to do just that. We zoom out to see how you’re doing overall and then zoom in on specific areas of your life so you know what your next step is toward that free and flourishing life.  



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