Setting Direction - Part 5: Which Boundaries?

What Guard Rails Have You Set Up?

A fifth question to aid us in our leadership role of Setting Direction is which boundaries will get us there? That is… what drives success?

I picked this element up from reading Dr. Henry Cloud's excellent book, Boundaries for Leaders. Boundaries help determine what you will allow or focus on and what you will not allow or not focus on.

They are a handful of essential guardrails that make sure certain things happen and prevent other things from happening. Success is not achieved simply by defining the destination. Reality reminds us that the process of getting there has many distractions that may keep us busy but not on target.

I saw a cute cartoon years ago that showed a house painter painting an inside wall with an artist brush. The couple who had hired him are shown talking off to the side and saying, "I knew we should not have agreed to pay him by the hour."

He was technically doing what they asked him to do, namely, paint a wall. However, they had not placed certain boundaries on that direction. The lack of doing so was proving quite costly to them.

Walter Isaacson in his book on Steve Jobs illustrates this point. When Jobs came back to Apple, the company was in big trouble. They had some of the most creative computer and design minds out there. There was frenetic energy all over the facility. Yet, they were losing money. Lots of it!

As Jobs sat through a production meeting where the discussion focused a large number of products they were working on, he had had enough. He said, “This is crazy!"

He then grabbed a marker and on a white board drew a vertical line and a horizontal line. Above the columns he wrote Consumer and Pro. Along the rows he wrote Desktop and Portable. He then said that the task for Apple was to build one great product for each quadrant.

Their task was only four products, not a myriad number of products. Isaacson then said that the room sat in stunned silence over the clarity of boundaries… what they would work on and what they would not work on. Boundaries are these needed guardrails.

Here are 4 Keys to setting boundaries that lead to success:

1. Limited - few in number. With limited time, resources, and abilities, what are the handful of things you must focus on to make the greatest impact?

2. Essential - critical in importance. Of all the possible things you can do, what are the right things done in the right way at the right time that you must do?

3. Distracting - deception in activity. Activity does not necessarily mean progress. What are the "good" things that can take up our time, energy, and money and yet do not actually build momentum and get results?

4. Controllable - doable in fact. What are the things you actually have control over and can do regardless of circumstances or other factors?

Busyness is no substitute for production. One can be busy all day and yet achieve little. Don't paint a wall with an artist's brush. Make sure that when you set direction you don't leave out the guard rails needed to insure success.

What are you going to decide to focus on and what are you going to intentionally not focus on?

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