How Leadership Behavior Can Affect Team Boundaries

A few years ago, I began noticing a line of clothing marketed mainly to young people that proudly displayed its label of “NO BOUNDARIES.” I knew it was a marketing ploy to the young and restless, but instinctively it felt dangerous.

Unfortunately, some people took the label seriously. In today’s culture, far too many people seem to lack respect for many of the boundaries that establish order and hold us together as a civilized society. Perhaps you have noticed the same situation. Let’s pause to reflect on boundaries and the role they play in daily life and how our naturally-wired behaviors also play a part.

Sports Boundaries

Watching a basketball game recently reminded me again of the importance of boundaries. There was an official timeout for a video replay/review following an out-of-bounds call. I thought the call would be reversed since it appeared that the player remained inside the line. But while the player remained inbounds, the ball had touched the line and so the call was confirmed.

As I watched the slow-motion replay, the whole idea of boundaries hit me. I realized that almost all sports—football, tennis, baseball, track, soccer, etc. have boundaries—out-of-bounds lines that define the playing field. And without exception, there is an immediate consequence when those boundaries are violated. There are many areas in life that can be this way—the extreme could be a loss of life because a drunk or distracted driver crossed the center line or ran a stop sign. Other line-crossings may not be so tragic, but there is almost always a negative consequence.

Living in the Balance of Paradox

There are many implications in this example for leaders trying to promote healthy values of individual responsibility and personal accountability in a culture that has drifted toward a “no-boundaries” mentality.

Like so many other areas of leadership, it requires more than an either/or mentality. Leaders must live in the tension of dichotomy or paradox. Often, it’s both.

“Leaders should get out front in questioning rules and traditions that no longer serve a purpose, while at the same time rejecting the overreach of a ‘no-boundaries’ attitude” [Tweet This]

This is clearly not an easy task and leaders must set the example.  Clarify your own boundaries and then battle to live within them.

Also consider your naturally-wired behaviors that create your unique leadership style. Are you more pioneering or content? Are you more take-charge or cooperative? These traits will affect how you view boundaries in life and leadership. We use an online assessment like Leadership Behavior DNA to help leaders pinpoint their unique leadership style so that they can understand their strengths and struggles as they lead.

With the commitment to lead with honor as your foundation, though, here are four steps from our Courageous Accountability Model™ that can guide you forward.

  1. Clarify.

Make sure everyone understands expectations, the boundaries and their purpose and why they exist. Consequences must also be understood when boundaries are violated. Every sport has a rulebook to clarify the rules and penalties. You need to make sure your expectations and consequences are clear also.

  1. and 3. Connect and Collaborate effectively.

Consider the unique people and groups and how their expectations about boundaries and consequences may be different. For example, sales people will make more mistakes with details than ops people. Always have and always will.  You must connect with them differently.

Discuss boundaries with others. Seek wisdom and be willing to flex when the need arises. Look for areas where you may be setting a boundary that is inappropriate for the current situation. A new hire may need a boundary that may be unnecessary and undermining for an experienced person.

Keep an open and ongoing dialogue about boundaries and help others see the value in them for themselves and the team.

  1. Confront or Celebrate.

Celebrate those who meet expectations and confront those who don’t with appropriate consequences.  Be wise, don’t react, follow up with a balanced and firm response.

Embracing Past Wisdom

“The wisdom of the ages reveals that boundaries must exist as guardrails in every area and context of life for many reasons.” [Tweet This]

They faithfully protect us and others from the consequences that come when we transgress into dangerous territory.


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