With every passing year, technology is allowing us to be increasingly accessible. We can work from anywhere at any time of day and can communicate faster than ever.
But technology has also blurred the line between “on” time and “off” time, with many leaders feeling the pressure to be available for colleagues and customers around the clock.
To lead ourselves, our teams and our organizations well, we need to set boundaries. And as Executive Coach Dan Foster has seen from the coach’s chair, it starts with identifying what our top priorities are and setting the structure and expectations in place to make sure we’re investing in those priorities.
Foster joined Building Champions in 2011 after leading a successful career as a licensed real estate broker, growing a sales team and managing two local branches for a top real estate company in the Pacific Northwest. He’s passionate about developing people and enjoys helping his clients apply simple tools to complicated situations for greater success in all aspects of business and life.
We recently sat down with Foster to talk about boundaries — why leaders struggle with them, what’s working for his clients and what steps leaders can take to set better boundaries.
1. Why do you think it’s hard for people to set boundaries around access and availability?
Dan Foster: As a coach, I see two reasons for this struggle. The first is that we surround ourselves at work and in life with people we enjoy serving. So, when these people have needs, we want to help them and serve them. It’s an honor and privilege to have people count on us and look to our services or products to help them live the life they want.
The second reason, which is more negative, is that people tend to have a scarcity mindset. They believe that if they don’t answer their phone or respond to emails or texts from clients or customers, that they will miss out on serving them and ultimately earning money. So, this scarcity mindset causes people to have a fear of boundaries and creates a belief that they must be accessible all the time or they will miss out.
2. When it comes to boundaries, where do you see your clients struggle most?
DF: In coaching, we work on the service and scarcity mindsets right out of the gate. However, where I continue to see a struggle is with leaders honoring and respecting the boundaries they have set for themselves and their time.
They create the boundaries but inevitably don’t honor them. They respond after hours, they work late on menial tasks because business is slow, etc. They allow their emotions to guide their decisions, rather than relying on their principles, and the boundaries are usually the first thing to fall.
3. Where have you seen people being successful with boundaries?
DF: I’ve helped clients create systems to support the boundaries they desire to have.
These clients use technology to help, not hinder. They set up automatic email responses and voicemail messages after hours, letting people know when they will respond and that they check regularly in case there is an emergency.
They share their boundaries with the people they work with, including their strategic partners. And they communicate that they need to unplug and be inaccessible if they are going to be the best version of themselves for their clients and team.
4. This isn’t just a work problem. How have you seen this affect other areas of people’s lives?
DF: You can’t separate this problem and say it only happens at work. At the core, this is an issue of self-leadership, which means it starts at home with what you are thinking, believing, and feeling about yourself, your loved ones, and the key areas of your life.
We call this your inner game. If your inner game does not value boundaries and see the benefit of disconnecting to rest, recharge, and build relationships with the people you love, then you will never be able to do it at work.
When we don’t take the time to disconnect, we essentially are always “on” but never engaged. We may be present physically, but mentally and emotionally we are distant from our loved ones and unable to give them the attention they need, which leads to frustration and broken relationships. It also keeps us from focusing on the areas of our lives that matter most to us like working out, community service, faith, etc. We don’t have the time, energy, or focus for these things when we don’t create boundaries and are always focused on work.
5. What are some strategies people can use to set better boundaries?
DF: It starts with defining what is most important for you. You have to understand what you are protecting with boundaries and why it is worth protecting.
This is why we start with Life Planning, which helps our you identify the relationships and areas of life that are most important to you and that you want to invest in for long-term success and joy.
Next, you need to create morning and evening routines that support living out your Life Plan. These routines are the foundation of boundaries.
Once you have the foundation set with routines and time blocks in place for specific Life Plan activities, then you can start to build the walls of systems and tools to help you live with purpose and intentionality. These include things like the posted work hours, voicemails and email responses, communication to clients, partners, and coworkers of the boundaries, etc.
In the end, you must have a fundamental belief that boundaries are essential for your long-term success and joy both in life and work. If you don’t believe this, you will never do it, no matter how many books or articles you read. You must believe it and then take actions that support that belief.