When I first moved to the US in 1996, I was working as VP of Marketing in Silicon Valley. It was an exhausting 24/7 job, characterized by high-energy, high-power, and high expectations. I was known as the person who always got things done. I wore that badge of honor with pride, even though that meant responding to emails at 3 AM. I would spend my nights semi-sleeping, just waiting for the next ping or a red flagged email in Lotus Notes to come my way. Of course, I just had to respond immediately in order to maintain my reputation. And the more I responded, the more work came my way. By 2002, I had done myself in, and had to go out on disability with a repetitive strain injury. I was angry, conflicted and scared. More importantly, I placed all the blame on the company for demanding too much work and being poorly organized.
Unfortunately, I had failed to identify and understand my role in creating the situation. It took a long time working with my coach to finally come to terms with this. In my zeal to impress, I had successfully trained everyone that I was available at their disposal at all hours of the day and night. The word ‘boundaries’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I finally recognized that I was at least 50% responsible for creating this situation.
When I coach people now, and hear them complaining about other people or their own situation, my first question is “what is your role in creating this?” We often don’t realize how much we contribute to building our reputations in the workplace. By way of another example, if you consistently arrive late for a meeting or frequently cancel at the last minute, you are most likely developing a reputation as someone who is not committed or worse – is disrespectful of other people’s time. Be mindful that you are sending a powerful message to the people around you, and they in turn are forming their own impressions of who you are. You are training them by your behavior. Consciously or subconsciously, you are sending the message that you are unreliable and uncommitted. To be the best leader possible, take some time to reflect on the messages you send to your team by virtue of your behavior. You are responsible for creating the impression you want people to have of you. If you recognize yourself in either of the scenarios described above, think about setting reasonable boundaries and committing yourself to always being on time for meetings. More importantly, try to understand what motivation you have for projecting the image you are creating for yourself.
Processing with your executive coach is an excellent idea if you think you need to make some changes. I needed this guidance to help me learn how to establish appropriate boundaries. I now know how to say no, but I often still have to check in with myself to make sure I am doing what’s best for me. It’s a never ending journey, but as a result, my relationships both at work and on a personal level are much healthier.
If you would like to learn more about how to train those around you or how to set good boundaries, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.