Donít Fence Me In
Part of a leader's job is to create the boundaries for those being led. Even though boundaries are necessary, if they are set unclearly or incorrectly, they can stifle productivity and creativity rather than create the support and help they were designed to provide. These five suggestions will help you examine your fence posts and encourage you to expand your team's boundaries.
Farmers and ranchers put fences up primarily to keep their animals where they want them. The fence defines the boundary of where it is OK for the animals to live and graze. Fences serve several practical purposes Ė as I said, they keep animals where they want them and, as important, out of where they donít want them. They keep the animals safe and help maintain the herd (with no fences farmers might have trouble keeping track of these animals!).
While we arenít animals, managers and leaders have always created fences (or boundaries) for employees as well. They are set up for much the same reasons: to provide safety and exert control, as well as to define where people canít go. Fences or boundaries can be helpful, but when set unclearly or too narrowly, they can cause significant problems. After all, we arenít sheep or cattle!
Here are five things to consider when placing your fence posts or setting the boundaries for your team and organization.
Define the fence line. People need to know what and where the boundaries are. Since leaders arenít always clear when setting them, or are they arenít visible like a real fence, much energy is lost when people make assumptions about those boundaries. When you arenít sure if you can make that decision or adjust that process or call the Customer or any number of things, your energy is sapped and your motivation affected. As the leader when you clearly define what behaviors and decisions are inside the fence and which ones arenít, you make life and decision making much easier for your employees.
Expand the boundaries. More often than not, in the name of control, leaders set the boundaries unnecessarily narrow.† Ask yourself what would happen if you gave people a bit more freedom to make decisions and cover some additional territory. While there might be errors (once or twice), there might also be new ideas, approaches, energy and ownership. All farmers still have fences, and you definitely need some boundaries. The question is: are your boundaries as broad as they could be?
Clarify the goals. When you help people understand the goals and purpose for the organization or their team you are taking an important step towards empowering them. With a clear goal they are better able to work within the boundaries to achieve better results.
Trust people more. When you trust people more Ė assuming the best in their intentions and potential Ė you will be more willing to expand the boundaries. We all need boundaries, but if trust is heightened, results will improve and those expanded fence lines will stay intact.
Give more responsibility. When you grant more trust and couple it with greater responsibility and accountability, you accelerate peopleís passion, interest and ownership in their work. It is important to give people more responsibility as they develop the skills and experience to manage it effectively, but most leaders are too tentative in expanding responsibility. Do it intelligently, but consider doing it sooner rather than later.
As you have read these points you may be thinking that not everyone on my team is ready for a bigger field and more responsibility. Effective coaching and leadership requires that we provide people the support they need to be successful Ė no matter the size of their field, consider these points as general guidelines.†††
As you clarify the boundaries, expand trust and responsibility you are empowering people in ways that perhaps you havenít before. That heightened empowerment will often lead to people standing by the fence, looking for more opportunities and challenges.
Remember, most people are thinking ďdonít fence me in.Ē When you move the fences outward, expanding the boundaries, you will find greater productivity, passion and results on the other side.
Make the fences clear, but be willing to expand them. You wonít regret it and your team will thrive. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Potential Pointer: Fences and boundaries are needed, but set unclearly or incorrectly, they can inadvertently stifle productivity and creativity rather than the support and help they were designed to provide. Take a look at the fences youíve put up in your business and determine if they are supporting Ė or hindering Ė the results you are aspiring to.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services. You can learn more about him and a special offer on his newest book, Remarkable Leadership: Unleashing Your Leadership Potential One Skill at http://RemarkableLeadershipBook.com/bonuses.asp .