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Leadership: Holding boundaries

Julia Worthington MinstF(Dip) is a Fundraising Leadership Coach and Mentor based in the north of England. Find out more about her here.

Here’s a quick quiz question. It’s Friday night, and you’re just putting your coat on when your boss comes in, and asks you to stay late to finish a report. You’ve made plans to go out for dinner with your family. How do you respond? Do you sigh, and take your coat off again – after all, the report must be important and your family are sure to understand? Or do you politely but firmly say that you have other plans for tonight, but you’re happy to come in a little early on Monday?

If you’d always choose to stay and do the extra work, your response might not be as helpful as you think it is, nor does it demonstrate great leadership. Setting clear boundaries at work helps to make you more productive, and saying ‘yes’ to everything isn’t always the best response.

Some of the leaders I work with say ‘yes’ to working at an evening event when they have a night class or circuit training, or they say ‘yes’ to completing reports or extra work on their own because nobody else volunteers. Whilst this can be a successful short term solution, it is not effective over months and years.

While constant demands on your attention and focus might make you feel in demand and successful, they can also drain your focus, positivity and productivity, leaving you feeling like you’re not in control of your own life.

If you continue to be the person who says ‘yes’ all the time, no-one will appreciate your sacrifices as they’ll think you genuinely don’t mind being permanently on call– and they’ll keep asking you.

Each time someone makes a request, think about it based on individual merits. Is it a genuine, unavoidable emergency where it’s all hands to the pump, or could it be rescheduled? Is someone else better placed to deal with it, can you delegate it?

How can you avoid always agreeing? Instead of automatically saying ‘yes’ to every request, say you’ll check your diary and get back to them. This will not only give you a little thinking time, but will also help break the reflex ‘yes’ habit.

For conditioned people pleasers, saying ‘no’ (or even ‘not yet’) can be difficult. Safeguarding your personal time is essential to achieving a good work/life balance, and makes you more productive during the times you are at work. Setting boundaries really will help you to be a better leader, and surprisingly the sky doesn’t fall in.

Please share your views and comments about this blog below or you can contact Julia on Twitter.

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