You are a good person who wants to be a great leader and teammate. You want to follow what I call the ATS rule of team building, that is you want to… do your part AND THEN SOME to help your team achieve their goals. Great, but how do you do this and still keep firm boundaries?
I recently spoke with a client who was having a difficult time creating boundaries with her co-workers and supervisors. She wanted to keep everyone happy and be a great teammate by doing an extra task here and there. The problem was that she soon found herself being a dumping ground for many tasks that others didn’t want to do or didn’t know how to do but was their responsibility.
She became the go-to person in the team to ‘get stuff done’. She was starting to feel disrespected, her core responsibilities were starting to suffer and she didn’t know how to stop the onslaught of work without feeling like she would be offending her teammates.
Why Boundaries Are Critical
Having firm boundaries is a critical element to becoming a successful leader, whether you are at the top of an organization or are working your way up. Setting boundaries around your time and responsibilities is easier said that done, especially if you want to practice the ATS Rule.
It is important to be a helpful teammate and leader but you need to protect your time furiously. You have roles and responsibilities to perform which need to take priority for you to do your job well. You only have so much time in a workday and mental bandwidth to go around.
If you spend much of your time doing work for others that falls outside your mandate, clearly your quality of work in your core responsibilities will suffer. Perhaps even worse you will suffer some kind of breakdown, leaving you incapacitated and unable to do any work at all.
If you don’t have boundaries, the people around you are not going to have boundaries for you. We often think putting up firm boundaries will cause people to disrespect you for your inflexibility or willingness to help out, but the case is usually the opposite. They will realize how committed you are to doing your best work and for that to happen, they need to respect the boundaries you have set.
When it comes to wanting to be an outstanding team member and doing your part AND THEN SOME to help people out, I would recommend you deliver the best WOW service you can give within your boundaries and constraints. I am not saying don’t help teammates out and never step outside your direct role and responsibilities.
There will be slow times when you can take on more work, or a task you are an expert in that takes someone else hours but which you could do in minutes, or times when you can teach someone a task they are asking you to do. Just make sure you are clear what your boundaries are by saying things like “I will do it this time but the next time it’s all you”, or “I see you are overwhelmed, I have a bit of time opened up in my calendar this week, how can I help”.
At the same time, always keep in mind the boundaries you are not willing to bend and people will respect you for that.
Saying NO to the Boss without Saying NO
Enforcing your boundaries upon your supervisor can seem challenging. Being the person (besides you) who has the most control over your work satisfaction and career advancement, you certainly don’t want to upset them by saying no. The great thing is you don’t have to say NO. The next time a senior manager or supervisor pushes your boundaries, say to them “yes I will do that for you but I will have to stop doing this….” By saying this, you get them to choose what they want you to work on while letting them know you can’t do both.
If you are conflicted about your role or the boundaries you have set, the best thing to do is have a one-on-one conversation with the person who is pushing your boundaries. A quick reply with a sarcastic email won’t do you any favours. However, a short conversation to clarify expectations can go a long way to helping you hold your boundaries while being the best leader and teammate possible.
How to Say NO
I highly recommend you read the book Essentialism by Greg McKowan, especially chapter 11. In that chapter the author gives many different ways to effectively say NO. James Altucher also wrote recently a book called THE POWER OF NO. I have not read this book but I have heard great things about it and I am a big James Altucher fan.
Action: Take a few moments in the next five days to jot down what your absolute boundaries are. Before you can defend your boundaries, you need to know what they are. What are you not willing to bend for, what is your protected area? When you have your list completed, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week… Embrace the Adventure!
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.
Click here to learn more about how Shawn can help your organization.