THE BOUNDARIES WE SET
Leaders who establish and honor
boundaries signal to others it’s okay to do the same
At the core for so many is a need
for tighter, clearer boundaries. Also at the core is
great uncertainty around how to establish them.
By Meg McKeen, CIC
There’s much buzz about boundaries today. Boundaries are often the antidote when we acknowledge that many people in our industry today are showing up and doing the work, but they are tired and stretched thin while they do it. They are burning the candle at both ends and they are burning out.
At the core for so many is a need for tighter, clearer boundaries. Also at the core is great uncertainty around how to establish them.
After acknowledging and addressing the need for clearer boundaries in my own life and work, I’ve seen firsthand the remarkable change that can happen—within myself and within my relationships—when boundaries are established.
I’m here to drive conversation and change in our needs and desires as we navigate our roles within the insurance industry and how we communicate them. But before we jump in, let’s establish what a boundary is—and isn’t.
Boundaries are not fences we build to keep people, things and responsibilities out. They’re not intended to punish or to limit. Rather, consider a boundary as a tool that preserves and restores what’s already inside of you, allowing you to find alignment between your energy and your tasks, and space to be present in your relationships with others and yourself.
An established and well-communicated boundary serves to protect your time, your resources, your energy … and you.
And boundaries will be different for each of us.
Easier said than done
“‘No.’ is a complete sentence.” You’ve likely heard this classic example of establishing a boundary. But if your lifelong habit is to say “yes,” learning to say “no” can be its own unique challenge.
If you self-identify as a people-pleaser, e.g., you tend to put the needs of others ahead of your own or you strive for nothing less than perfect, and you are exceptionally hard on yourself when you’re not, you may struggle to say “no.” Doing so may even spark feelings of guilt or disappointment that you’re letting others down, too.
We’ve all witnessed this classic scenario: In a room full of people, there’s a request for a volunteer. After a pause that seems impossibly long, no one speaks up or raises their hand. So you do.
In moments like these, can you challenge yourself to use that pause to ask yourself why you’ll raise your hand or voice and then assess your own bandwidth before you do? By doing so, you may avoid overextending yourself.
After all, an established boundary can be saying “yes” or saying “no,” but it can just as easily be simply staying silent.
Acknowledging that it’s likely taken a lifetime to build habits around boundaries, know that it will take time to change them, too.
Boundaries are the start
If you’re nodding your head in agreement as you read this, you might also be asking yourself how you establish boundaries in practice. Showing up differently requires a different approach, so as you establish and reinforce your own boundaries consider:
Starting small. Maybe you’re not ready—or aren’t the type—to announce to the world that you’re establishing boundaries, but you can still start now, exactly where you are. If you’ve always been the type to go above and beyond but are feeling the side effects of doing so, consider letting go of just one of the tasks you own that doesn’t require your unique expertise or your time.
Offering a compromise. It’s important to remember that boundaries don’t have to be all or nothing. For example, if you have always felt like it’s up to others to make your schedule for you, in establishing a new boundary, you might commit to taking 15 minutes each day for a walk or for meditation. If a meeting is scheduled during that time, suggest instead that you meet 15 minutes later. Acknowledge that you’re not saying “no” to the meeting; you’re simply offering a shift in its timing. Do you want to avoid scheduling on top of that time for yourself? Put it on the calendar!
Communicating your “why.” Maybe you’d like to start leaving the office earlier, put an end to the last-minute requests that clog your inbox, or have that “just one more thing” actually be the last thing. Though the shifts you’re making may seem subtle to you, when we show up differently for the people in our lives, it may feel radical to them. We are inherently accustomed to the people we know well doing/being/acting a certain way, so even a small shift can feel significant and unfamiliar. Communicating your new boundary isn’t intended to be justification for it, but rather reinforcement of it. And the process can take time. So, sharing with a friend, partner, or colleague why you are making these small shifts can provide needed practice, accountability, and support.
Boundaries (and change) are hard
When you set a boundary, those around you might be supportive, but they might also be confused. Challenge yourself to be consistent. While the status quo may feel easier in the moment, stay true to the reason you established that boundary in the first place.
Boundaries may seem to be awkward at times. Perhaps you meet someone new who likes to say hello with a hug, but you’d rather offer a handshake. When you signal, directly or indirectly, that you have an established boundary around physical closeness, there may be a moment of awkwardness. But know that you are compromising your own boundary when you allow it to be breached in order to alleviate awkwardness for someone else. Know also that the cost to yourself of that compromise can be high.
Be aware that those around you might try to convince you that your boundary isn’t necessary, that it’s insignificant, or that it’s just a bad idea. Why? Whether they realize it or not, your prior lack of a boundary may have benefitted them in some way and the shift in your relationship dynamic might not be a welcome one.
It is important to know that the rejection or breach of your boundaries can signal an unhealthy, toxic dynamic or culture and should not be ignored.
Boundaries are brave
The absence of a boundary is indeed a boundary, and whether boundaries are effective or not, we all have them. Some of the greatest struggles I see today are within those at the top of our organizations. Forever fighting fires, our leaders are feeling the pinch that comes from expanded responsibilities, too many “to dos,” and not enough hours in each day.
As a result, energy is depleted, patience runs short, tempers can flare, and our organizational cultures suffer. Who pays the ultimate price? We all do.
At their breaking point, many leaders intentionally redefine how their work fits into their lives, and that means putting these ideas into practice to tighten boundaries around their work, opening time and space for connection with family and community.
While being intentional about honoring their own boundaries, leaders can also reinforce the boundaries of those on their teams, too.
- Does the team have access to the resources, training, and mentorship they need? Do I?
- Is the channel for sharing feedback safe and meaningful? Am I open to it?
- Has trust in the team to take initiative clearly been expressed? Do I trust myself?
- Does each team member know what the ramifications of being wrong or not getting it right will be? Do I?
Truly leading by example, leaders who establish and honor their own boundaries are signaling to others that it’s okay to do the same. When we are in the deepest relationship with ourselves, with clearly defined boundaries, the trust and loyalty we create in relationships with others can flourish.
Meg McKeen, CIC, is the principal consultant of Adjunct Advisors LLC, a consultancy she founded in 2018 with the simple belief that we can and must do more to support the individuals who choose a career in insurance. Her work for more than two decades in the industry spans roles in underwriting, leadership, and sales, and fuels her work as a consultant today, in which Meg holds space, at the crossroads of personal and professional development, for insurance professionals as they grow their sales and leadership acumen and for organizations as they navigate cultural change. Engage with Meg for private coaching, consulting engagements, and as you listen to the podcast she hosts, Bound & Determined. Learn more at www.adjunctadvisors.com.