Leadership Skills: Protecting the Boundaries of Others

business people talking during a breakHow many of us expect teammates to treat our project as their only (or at least most important) interest and focus?

It’s human to want that much participation from others. But it’s rarely possible for others to give us 100 percent of their attention for long in today’s economy.

Instead, what works is for us to invite associates to have and share with us their myriad of other interests and commitments apart from our projects together.

When we make the effort to actively learn about those other commitments and “hold” them for our partners with as much care as we hold our joint project, everyone gains.

A fundamental hallmark of extraordinary leadership is one’s capacity to discover another person’s reality, honor it, and completely reflect it to them. (Recall that “shared reality” is a predictor of rapport, interpersonal attractiveness, and frequency of communication.

When we open ourselves to the interests and commitments others hold outside their commitments to us, we do something very powerful for them: we honor all their choices. And, when we demonstrate this to others, we join them in honoring their “boundaries.”

My experience with the results of helping others honor all their choices has usually been highly beneficial to me, as well as to them.

Here’s just one example: Once I was working on deadline with a partner who was unexpectedly called across the country to help with a family medical emergency. Our deadline was very important and her role was critical.

Nevertheless, I chose to reflect her family need to her and supported her traveling across the country to attend to family. I invited her to leave our project to me and not worry about it. Then, as she traveled, I checked in with her, offering to handle any other commitments she might have left behind. In so doing, I helped her “protect her boundaries.”

The result? In actuality, the more I invested in helping my teammate with her competing commitment, the more time and energy she found to invest in our project.

Faxes and e-mails flowed from her in the middle of the night, sent from the hospital where she sat with her ill nephew. Instead of diminishing our joint efforts, my offer to help her with other commitments actually boosted her commitment — and her efforts — on our project together.

I have found this dynamic repeated time after time in many different circumstances and relationships.

Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Stretch:

Reflect for five minutes on the way you treat competing commitments.

Imagine you have a project with Sam, and Sam also has a project with Sue. Imagine that today your project develops an emergency for which you need Sam’s assistance — now! But, when you contact Sam, he tells you he has a critical meeting scheduled with Sue.

What’s your reaction? Is it something like, “I don’t care about Sue’s project! I care about my project!”

Is your habitual response to get mad at Sam for not orienting his entire life around what you care about? Or, can you value Sam’s other activities, even if your personal outcome seems to compete with them?

How can you help Sam “protect his boundaries” and get what you need from him as well?

Post your answer in the comment section! Or post your questions.

Leaders and coaches: Hone your integrative skills in the Leadership Gift Program. CEO’s desiring a culture of diverse unity may want to investigate the proven Managed Leadership Gift Adoption program.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

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