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Establishing and Navigating Relational Boundaries

Setting limits is part of caring for yourself and others

One of the oft-overlooked components of successful leadership is the thoughtful establishment of clear expectations and boundaries regarding our availability to those we lead. After 20 years, I have come to understand that the more intentionality we bring to this, the better off we—and our volunteers—will be.

Why We Need Boundaries

Successful leaders routinely rise to the many challenges we face. We then get rewarded with higher-level opportunities, which have more responsibility. These promotions are gratifying but they can come at the cost of our own well-being. In my twenties, I worked 50 to 60 hours a week at my for-pay job, and then devoted another 10 to 15 hours to church activities. I did not faithfully care for my body nor did I spend sufficient time on my own spiritual development. I found myself near burnout by the time I hit 30.

The first boundary we need to establish is the amount of time we realistically have to offer. For a healthy individual, volunteering four to six hours a week should still leave sufficient time for self-care, personal relationships, and the mundane acts which we all wish we could avoid, but in reality, cannot. Add into the mix a health issue or caring for parents or young children (or having multiple children who are involved in sports or music!) and those hours quickly vanish. Because our lives are not static, we need to take our pulse on a regular basis. What worked as a 25-year-old may not work as a 30-year-old. By routinely exceeding our limitations, we risk exhaustion and engender manic volunteers who may also flame out far too soon.

Do We Really Need Boundaries with Our Volunteers?

I love leading and I truly enjoy those who partner with me. I also have three children, a long-term health issue, and a tendency toward codependence. Not too long ago, I believed that helping anyone who asked (and some who didn't) whenever they asked (and sometimes before they asked) was the mark of a successful leader. After being diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, I had to reevaluate my logic. I now communicate my availability with painstaking clarity. After our first meeting, my teammates understand that though I am completely present to them during our team time or when we see each other in church, that availability does not extend to everyday life. I give my home phone number (but not my cell) and my email and specify that I will return most communications within a 24-hour period. This specificity allows my team members to know what they can expect from me and helps me not to overextend myself (perhaps the bigger issue).

October10, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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