Select Page

The Importance of Boundaries

In his book Give And Take, Adam Grant describes three types of people [1]:

  • Givers: Those people who give with no thought of reward or reciprocity;
  • Matchers: Those who will only give if they feel they will get something back in return;
  • Takers: Those who take and do not give back.

Grant points out, according to his research, the style that is the least successful are the Givers. Takers can take advantage of Givers’ generosity. Givers may also burn themselves out by giving too much.

So, who are the most successful people?

Also Givers.

Givers thrive when the following conditions are met:

  • When they are sheltered from burnout;
  • They work in a culture where giving and asking for help are encouraged; and
  • The Takers have been weeded out.

I believe another important aspect is appropriate.

Boundaries.

You cannot give to everyone.

It is still possible to give, with no thought of reward, within carefully defined and managed boundaries. Understand what you can achieve and what you can’t and realise that it’s vital to look after yourself if you want to be able to keep giving over the long term.

If you’re asked for something and you can’t help, be honest. Tell the person who’s asked you’re unable to help them. Then point them in the direction of someone who can. That way, at least you’re still giving in the best way possible.


[1] Grant points out that we all have Giving, Matching and Taking traits and will behave with a mix of the styles over the course of our lives. We do, however, have a predominant style that aligns with one of the three.

Become a Chief Storytelling Officer.

For thousands of years, we have communicated with each other through stories. We’ve told stories about our history, our successes and our failures.

Leaders need to take on the role of storyteller. I think they should become the Chief Storytelling Officer.

As the Chief Storytelling Officer, the leader looks for real and valid stories connecting the work their people do with the higher purpose of the organisation. Why does this matter? Because one of the basic psychological needs that motivate humans to do great work is a sense of purpose. A feeling that what they are doing matters.

Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take and creator of the WorkLife podcast, describes a call centre in the United States. The call centre operators had the thankless task of making cold calls to seek donations to support disadvantaged students. Performance in the call centre was flat, and morale was low. As you can imagine, making multiple calls every day asking for money can be a difficult job psychologically, especially when the rejection rate is high.

Then the manager of the call centre had an idea. He found two of the disadvantaged students who had benefited from the fund and asked them to come into the call centre and meet with the phone operators. They revealed how they had received a good education and achieve success, all because of the money the operators had elicited from donors.

Performance and morale in the call centre improved when the operators could see what they were doing was making a difference.

Closer to home, I recently worked with a leader looking to motivate his team of data analysts. He embraced the role of Chief Storytelling Officer. He showed the team how the numbers they crunched formed the basis of a report that positively changed the way the company interacted with its customers. Showing those data analysts the results energised them for the next task.

Many people work for us, with us or around us that may not be able to make the connections between what they do and a more significant positive outcome. Often, this is because they are too close to their work and are unable to see the longer-term effects.

As leaders, we can provide people meaning to the work they do through real and valid stories and motivate them to perform at their best.


What’s The Question?

If you peruse the business literature, or even just business posts on social media, you will eventually come across the phenomenon of “meeting bashing”.  It seems no-one likes a meeting and every commentator has a three, four or five-step process to address what they see as the downside.

I offer one step.

Frame the outcome of the meeting as a question that needs answering.

“In today’s meeting, we will seek to answer the following question: What / Who / How / When”?[i]

I once had a boss who was a great guy. He had a heart of gold and was always trying to do what was best for our stakeholders. The team loved him. He would, however, walk out of team meetings frustrated because there were very rarely any clear outcomes.

The problem was he always started the meeting with, “I want to talk about issue X”.

And so, we would discuss it. We would offer our opinions and our version of solutions. We would agree and disagree based on our perspectives. In the end, exasperated, the boss would say something like, “So what? What’s the decision?”

My sense always was, nice guy that he was, he was rarely clear on the question he was trying to answer. If he had, he would have been able to shape, guide and facilitate the discussion to answer that question. 

What’s the question you’re trying to answer? Understand that question and you may be able to make meetings useful. 


[i]And, very rarely, “Why?”