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NextGen Know-How: The Importance of Boundaries in Leadership (and Life)

February 2018: Vol 41 No 2
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR
Protect your time and energy by creating structure.
Person’s hand writing “Set boundaries” in a notebook with a fountain pen

On a recent Wednesday night, I was attending a parent association meeting at my childrens’ school. These meetings have historically run long, sometimes going until 9:30 p.m. or later. I go to bed at 9:30 on weeknights, so the day after these meetings, I would wake up feeling tired and sluggish, negatively impacting the rest of my week. But I realized I have a choice in this situation. Instead of feeling obligated to stay until the end of the meeting, I created a boundary: For weeknight meetings, I would leave by 8:30 p.m. No exceptions. I let the president of the parent association know ahead of time, and at the next meeting, I collected my things at 8:30, said goodbye and headed home.  

Boundaries are an essential part of leadership. Without boundaries, our days become a haze of activity without focus or accomplishing anything of value. When you don’t have boundaries, everyone else’s emergencies become your emergencies.

I like to think of it this way: Boundaries create structure. Structure creates freedom.

Boundaries allow you to focus and work at your peak. They protect your time and energy so you can work at your best. So you can be your best. 

Are there any boundaries you need to create in your life?

Below are some examples of leadership boundaries that can help boost your productivity and work/life balance:

  • Closing your door to work on an important project
  • Telling your employees you are not available for the next two hours so you can work on a project
  • Taking a lunch break every day to give your brain a rest
  • Not accepting a meeting request without an agenda
  • Protecting the first half hour of your workday to get focused and review your priorities
  • Leaving the office no later than 6:00 p.m. each day
  • Not checking email on weekends
  • Not working at all on vacation (This is a boundary I am implementing in a couple weeks!)

Below are some of the personal and work boundaries I’ve put in place to protect my time and energy:

  • Prioritize my to do list and focus on two high priority activities a day
  • Schedule productivity sprints (blocks of time in my calendar) to focus on one thing at time (Typically these sprints are between one and two hours each.)
  • Close my email and put my phone out of sight when I am doing a productivity sprint
  • Go to bed by 9:30 p.m. on weeknights
  • No weeknight meetings after 8:30 p.m.
  • No alcohol on weeknights
  • No work after 6:00 p.m.
  • Phone stays in the kitchen at night (not in the bedroom)
  • Maximum of one alcoholic beverage at a dinner or event (unless it’s a really long event like a wedding, where I allow myself two glasses)

You may be thinking, does she have any fun? Yes, I do. What these boundaries do is ensure that my energy is at its peak. I facilitate leadership programs and speak in front of people at least three times a week, and feeling rested, energized and at the top of my game is vitally important. Having a glass of wine on a Tuesday night may not seem like a big deal, but it results in me not sleeping as well that night and feeling groggy in the morning, which undermines my performance. That boundary is a structure I use to keep performing at my best. 

As humans, we make thousands of decisions every day—everything from what to wear to who to hire. Having structure cuts down on the decisions you have to make, which frees up mental space and energy. Some well-known CEOs have created structures to simplify their lives as much as possible. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Don Tyson, former CEO of Tyson Foods, wear the same outfit every day, as did the late Steve Jobs. This is one less choice they need to make each day. 

An important part of leadership is being able to keep yourself—and your team—focused. That’s challenging in today’s world. Developing boundaries can create the structure you need to keep your leadership—and your life—on track.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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