(this article appeared in DUTCH in MT.be magazine)
“I don't know what to do anymore,” Steven sighed. “I think I've tried everything and still I'm not moving forward. No matter what I do, they don't listen to me.”. Steven is a young executive who is leading a team for the first time.
Coachees come to see me because they are up against a wall. They get stuck because their old strategies no longer work. And yet, they keep doing more of the same: work even harder, collect even more information, put more pressure on their team.
However, doing more of the same rarely brings solace.
How do you know you're up against a wall?
When you don't respect your boundaries, you end up running into a wall. Some common limits that are often ignored are the following:
1. Relational and emotional limits
You experience friction in your interaction with people. You keep falling into the same patterns over and over again. This leads to conflicts with colleagues, but also to clashes with your partner or quarrels with the children. Or you notice that you are running empty. You are irritable, emotional or constantly frustrated.
2. Physical limits
You work late nights and weekends just to finish that to-do list. Your energy is gradually draining and your body starts giving increasingly clear signals (headaches, insomnia, breathing problems, shoulder, back or neck pain...).
3. Mental limits
Despite your tremendous efficiency and focus on results, the work keeps coming at you in big waves and you become overwhelmed. Your thoughts never stop. You fret and wake up in the middle of the night in order not to forget that one important email.
4. Quality of life limits
Where are the days when you could enjoy yourself? Have fun without (over)thinking? Suddenly your life has become incredibly serious; all lightheartedness seems to have disappeared. You no longer have time for your hobbies or to meet up with friends. And relaxing or doing nothing for a whole day is no longer an option.
5. Existential limits
Eventually, when you continue to ignore all the previous boundaries, the existential questions arise: what am I actually doing? Why am I doing this? Who am I really? Is this all there is?
So what can you do when your familiar strategies no longer work?
- Dare to take a look at yourself, objectively and honestly. Do you recognize the above boundaries? Do you structurally exceed your limits? Dare to question yourself and take action accordingly.
- Ask others. What do they think about your limits and strategies? Ask your loved ones honestly if they think you cross your limits and take their answer seriously.
- If you find that you are indeed stuck, reverse your strategy. And test the reversed strategy in a homeopathic dose. What if instead of giving orders, you listened to what the team needs? What if, instead of putting off the decision, you make a choice, even if it's a small one? What if, in a conflict, you reached out to the other person? What becomes possible then?
- Engage in metacommunication: have the conversation about how things are going. Discuss with others where you get stuck and which strategies no longer seem to work. Ask them to help you think about solutions.
- Learn from those who seem to have their lives on track. What are their insights and strategies? How do they set boundaries? What do they consciously choose to do or not do?
What is the moral to this story? Tense boundaries lead to tense leadership. Only when you can relax within your boundaries (and that means not constantly brushing against them or crossing them) you can relax in your leadership.