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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #140: Leadership Boundaries: Can You Be the Boss and Still Be a Friend?

June 10, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #140: Leadership Boundaries: Can You Be the Boss and Still Be a Friend?

Establishing boundaries, in both personal and professional life, is something everyone needs to do. Today, Chris and Perry discuss how leadership boundaries can help leaders be more effective and drive engagement with their teams.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley. A John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede. Vice president with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Just as a reminder before we get started, if you want to download the learner guide, also if you want to read the blog that Perry wrote along with today’s session don’t hesitate to visit And you can also leave a comment or a question there for us.

Perry Holley:    Well, today’s topic is boundaries for leaders. Now, I’m going to tell you, I’m going to give you the rest of the title in just a minute, but I thought, “Is this is a message right here for me, or somebody else on our team? Are we out of bounds? Are we out of boundaries?”

But boundaries for leaders. Can you be the boss and still be a friend? I know we did a podcast once on boundaries as it pertains to engaging your team. This one seems a little bit different. What are you thinking about here?

Chris Goede:     Well, if you do want to hear the other one, it’s on podcast episode number 21.

Perry Holley:    Listen, we’re on 140-ish.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. That’s 120 ago.

Perry Holley:    Imagine, they let us keep doing that for so long. Who did we fool?

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    It was really on increasing engagement and helping you establish boundaries for your team. Today I really want to talk about boundaries for leaders, and why you need them. This comes up on coaching call, after coaching call, that someone has gotten themselves into something, over committed, or in something they shouldn’t have been into. And I think it all comes back to boundaries.

The specific question came up a few weeks ago when I was talking about connecting with their team. And the person I was coaching said, “I don’t want to get involved in their life. I can’t be their friend and be their boss.” And I thought, “Well, yeah you can. But that’s where boundaries come in.” And before we really get started with that, maybe you could help define little bit, what we mean by boundaries.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I think, first thing we want to talk about is, is that there’s a concept of establishing boundaries both in your personal life and professional life. It’s something that every leader needs to do. Perry and I talk a lot about, at level four in The five Levels of Leadership, we talk about developing people. And we encourage you to develop them personally and professionally.

When it comes to the boundaries, I think it’s only appropriate we say, “Hey, yeah we need to make sure that with these boundaries you have both of them for your personal and your professional life.” The expert in this space, and really where we get a lot of our learning from a thought leader here, is Dr. Henry Cloud.

Perry Holley:    That’s right.

Chris Goede:     And his best seller book called Boundaries, and then more recently Boundaries For Leaders, should be something that you absolutely put on your personal reading list. It’s something that should be required. Dr. Cloud, there defines boundary like you would describe the fence around your backyard. Where everything inside the fence, you need to pay attention to, everything outside the fence is for someone else to pay attention to.

When I read this quote here it made me think about something, where we used to say to our kids all the time growing up, which was, “Hey, mind your yard. Hey, but so and so. I know, but mind your yard, not someone else’s yard.” And I think Dr. Cloud puts it really, really well here, is that, what is inside your fence is what you should build boundaries around.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, and you can see why that would be so helpful with your team, if you want to get them to fully engage with you, if they know, “What do I need to pay attention to?” And more importantly, “What do I not need to pay attention to?” But what Dr. Cloud said that really captured my attention, and reason I really go to this a lot, I think it’s important for every leader, is that the environment you have today, and I would say at work, or at home, any relationships you have, “The environment that you have today is a result of two things. He says, “And it’s what you created, and what you allow.” Say that again, “What you created and what you allow.”

And if everything is great, or everything is bad, you created it, and you allowed it to be. And then he wrapped that up by saying, “You are ridiculously in charge.” I don’t know if I really knew that.

Chris Goede:     Listen, I love that. Are you talking to me here?

Perry Holley:    You’re ridiculously in charge.

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Chris Goede:     Yeah. Or, “Yes, it’s absolutely my fault.” And behavior follows what you allow as a leader. And we talk oftentimes about with culture, again, you create that. You create that in your environment. Remember we talk about being a leader, let me just make sure you guys understand. Leader to us, is about influence. And so, you may not have the title position or tenor, but you absolutely do have influence. And so, we do allow certain behaviors to do that.

But I absolutely love that, “You are ridiculously in charge.” Let’s talk about some boundaries. Let’s share some ideas that leaders need to have in place, or maybe we should start with the question that you pose, actually in the title. Which is, can you be this boss/leader? I tend to remove the word boss with leader, but there are some bosses out there. And still be a friend of the people on your team?

Perry Holley:    Well, I’m going to flip it back to you, to see what you think there too. Can you be both? This leader told me that he stayed away from learning too much about the people on his team, because, and this was his word, “It can be messy. They will overshare and then will want you to be the answer to all their issues, and I don’t want to be taken advantage of.” Was what he said.

I said the answer to that, and what I coached him on was boundaries, but what do you think?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I would never coach someone not to connect with their people, because it seems messy. I think that as leaders when we talk about EQ, right? This is at the root of all of that and I’m not saying to get into everybody’s mess, in the weeds of it. But you got, as a leader, to connect with them where they’re at, and to be able to gain level two influence, and to be able to gain their trust. Right?

You got to have that listening ear, but set some boundaries around it, but don’t completely avoid it. When you think about this illustration where we talked about putting the fence around your backyard. Right? As we talk about . But what conversations you’re having with your people on your team could look like this.

One might be, “I’m okay with X, but I’m not okay with this.” And share that, openly with them. Or maybe you say, “Hey, I’m okay with learning about your personal details with people on our team, but I’m not okay with getting involved with personal struggles.” What are some of the details, right? But maybe you separate them from struggles. We’re just giving you some ideas here to think about.

Maybe it’s, you’re okay with helping them find the answers to their personal struggles, but you’re not okay with being the answer to their personal struggles. And I say that giggling and you laughing, because we both have been there.

Perry Holley:    Right.

Chris Goede:     Right? Where we’ve just had not had proper boundaries in place, and allowed our individuals on our teams to allow us to be the answer to their personal struggles. And man, that will drain you and your time as a leader in a hurry, if you don’t have the right boundaries.

Perry Holley:    I actually like that last example the best, is that I’m okay with understanding, helping you find answers to your personal struggle. Somebody comes to me with, “I’m really struggling with something.” I might have some ideas, some resources, something I could do, someone I know. Might be something I could do, but I’m not okay with me being the answer, you can’t just come in here and dump that on me, or I’m not going to own that.

I’ll be glad to point you, or to counsel you. Not counsel you, but really coach you in a direction you should go, but you have to own that. I don’t own that. I love that. And I think formulating your thinking on what our boundaries are is really so important.

But I had a coaching call even this week where the executive told me she hired a person she had known from another company. They had been friends in a previous company, and the executive thought this person would make a good addition to her team. When the new person came in, the new person began to act buddy, buddy all of a sudden, and with the executive, and was really playing that fact in front of the rest of the executive team that, “We were very close. We knew each other from the last company.”

And as we were talking about, this really became that coaching moment that, for the executive to share with her new hire, old friend, but new hire, that, “This is where boundaries needed to be in play about the relationship we have in the office.” And you really would expect that the new person would have had some understanding of that, was, “I shouldn’t come in and use our pet names and all the things we do in front of the executive team, because it’s going to look like favoritism. I’m going to make the boss look bad.”

But she didn’t. And so, now it’s up to you to set that boundary and to draw the line, “This is where the fence is. When we’re in the office this is the way we’re going to act with each other.” And it was a hard enough conversation, but it ended up to be the right thing to do.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. One of the things I just thought about in regards to that conversation, that you talked about there. Is, remember we talk about having a common language of leadership inside organizations. It may not have worked in this situation, because to your point, you said you would have thought, well, that might be the first mistake with this situation. They may not even have thought about it being wrong.

But I know, what I think about is, the culture we have inside of The John Maxwell Company. We do life together. Oftentimes we spend more time, no, all the time, in the work environment we spend more time with people we work with then we do on a personal life. And so, there is going to be some blended approach there. And I think we do it fairly well here at The John Maxwell Company.

There are boundaries set up, but it is going to happen. We’re not discouraging it. We’re jut figuring out, “Hey, how do you go about it the right way? How do you set up boundaries so that you can accomplish both?” And one of the things I was just thinking about was, oftentimes we’ll have conversations, “hey, I’m going to go level three real quick right here.” And you may walk into my office or I may walk into your office, or whatever. And we just might go straight to work, and conversations that we’re dealing with and certain things, and then walk out and be like, “Well man, Chris didn’t even act like he was my friend.” But if I say, “Hey, I need to go to level three.” Or you say, “Hey Chris, we got to go to level three and talk about this.”

Again, just the power of common language inside organizations driving culture, but also more importantly allowing you to have this connection. One of the areas that I struggle in, in addition to just that balance of it, because I am relational and I want to be friends with everybody, and solve everybody’s problems and all that kind of stuff. Is really, as I’ve gotten more and more responsibility in the organization, is managing my calendar. And feeling comfortable.

Perry Holley:    There’s a place that could use some fences.

Chris Goede:     Oh my gosh. Yes it could. Right? And he’s laughing, because he knows my calendar fairly well. And so, one of the things I’ve tried to put in place, is to really block out my calendar in different time segments that allow me to work on certain things without interruption. And again, remember, thinking about these boundaries, yes we’re talking about relational, but also think about the boundaries of which every day you deal with inside your workplace, inside your organization.

And so, for me, the boundary was, “How do I fence in enough time for me to be able to accomplish what I needed to do. The things that only I can accomplish for the organization at a particular time point?” And so, I had to put up some fences in order to make that happen.

The other thing I was thinking about, in regards to this around time, is the whole thing about the open door policy. Okay? I used to have a really hard time with shutting my office door. I don’t so much anymore, because I have a huge glass window, so now I can still feel like I am available.

Perry Holley:    and wave at you.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. “Yeah, come on in. Yeah, come on in.” Yeah. But previous office, right? It was just a wall and a door, and so I had a hard time doing that. And I had some people coach me through that and they’re like, “No, no, no. Listen, you need to carve out that time. You need to fence in that time in order to be productive in that.” And it was painful for me. Right? But what I didn’t see was that the organization or the team was suffering, because of that.

And so, whether it’s the calendar, whether it’s the open door, whether it’s relationships everything, I think, around this boundaries is very relevant to protecting fencing in what you need to fence in.

Perry Holley:    Big time. I had one for me was, I love so much what I get to do, and to write and speak, and teach, and podcast with you. It’s just big to me. Did I get that on there? But I would do it all the time. And so, I needed a boundary between when I’m going to work and when I’m not going to work. And now especially when we’re working at home, it’s just one seamless day of continuous work.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. That’s a good point. Yeah.Perry Holley:    And I got called to my attention when my wife said, “I have to scream at you to come down whatever you’re doing your writing and your creating that you’re doing up there. Can you come to dinner?” And I thought, “No one should have to yell at you to come to dinner.” I thought, that’s when it jumped to my mind, “I need a boundary.” But what’s the fence of, “When am I going to stop work?” Now, would I have to come back to it? Maybe, with permission.

But I’m going to stop work at a certain time, and I’m going to then go to be with the family at that time. And it changed the whole dynamic in my home, to say that they could count on me, because I put a boundary in there that I’m going to start work at this time, and I’m going to stop work at that time. There may be some certain special occasions, I have a global job, we have international clients. Sometimes I have to take calls at night. And they understand that.

But for the most part start and stop, that’s a fence. And now they know exactly what to expect from me. I was wondering, as a leader, this is a coaching moment, I think. Can you help the people on your team, do you see the opportunity to help people set boundaries for themselves?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Yes, before I answer that I want to go back to two things that you said. One. Man, I’ve never had to have anybody call me for dinner. By the way, if you know me it looks like I haven’t missed a meal in a long time. The second thing you said, I think it’s really important. I don’t want us to just pass over, is this whole virtual working environment and the boundaries that are so important. Maybe even more important than in the office boundaries with your time, with your calendar.

And then let me just say this. The boundaries between your personal and professional life can bleed over to your point. Right? In the virtual world you can get up early, you’re an early riser and you could start really early and by dinner time you haven’t moved anywhere in the house and you’re still going at it.

You said that and it’s like, “Oh man. That’s real.” For everybody that’s listening of, “Man, you’ve got to set some boundaries to get up and separate yourself, and to go have dinner.” Right?

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Very good.

Chris Goede:     And if you need help with that just let me know. I’d be more than happy to encourage you. But make sure you do that. It’s so important on your calendar and your time as you’re working virtually. Yeah. I think over the years for me, when you talk about this coaching moment. The first thing I thought about when you said that was, often I have told my kids growing up, “Control what you can control.”

In essence that’s what I’m telling them. Right? They’re fencing in their boundaries, “Do you have any control in what’s going to happen here? Okay, great. If not, don’t worry about it. If you do, hey, let’s go ahead and mow the yard. Let’s go ahead and water the yard. Let’s go after it, because you can control what you can control.”

And when you begin to think about this, and you begin to set boundaries in your professional life I think you’ll begin to see that you focus on things that matter most and produce the greatest return on your investment. On your time. And what matters most for the organization.

I think this is hard for a lot of us. It keeps you from over committing. We’ve all heard when you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else. And so, if you don’t have the proper boundaries, then you’re going to be over committing. This will allow you to keep from experiencing burnout, reducing confusion, maybe even increase your engagement and your morale on the team.

One of the team members that i have, they lose track of time. Right? And one of the boundaries that they’re working on is they set a little bit of a schedule and an alarm that goes off, if they have 30 minutes with somebody or something, they sets it for 30 minutes. And get into conversation, it’s going well, and it goes off, “Okay, hey, thanks so much for your time. I’m out of here.” Right?

Well, that’s a great boundary. Not only for that individual, but also for the other person’s time. And when you begin to see that, you see more focused effort. Its uncomfortable at times to do. To shut your door, to your calendar, to this whole, “Can I be,” back to your point and your question, “A boss and a friend at the same time?”

But I think if you set the proper boundaries you should be able to do that.

Perry Holley:    I coach a young sales manager and we got to talking and he said he got in a little bit of trouble, because he loves to spend time and wants to connect with his team, spend time with his team. It’s a sales organization and they’re running hard, but the guys on the team wanted to go out for happy hour and he loved to attend and go to happy hour with the team. And so, he could hang out and be one of the guys.

And where he got a little tangled up with spending too much time, and has got a little problem at home. I said, “This is really an opportunity for a boundary. It’s not happy hour that’s necessarily the problem. But it’s how long do you stay?” I asked him, “What is the boundary you could put in place with that?” And then he said, “I could go to meet the team and then stay for just a bit. Maybe have one. And leave. Don’t linger, don’t hang around, don’t be everybody’s buddy. But connect and be there to make that.”

And it wouldn’t offend his people at home, it would show the team that he was cared. It would be enough, but he wanted to be a part. But he can’t be everything.

Chris Goede:     I was getting ready to say. Yeah.

Perry Holley:    And I thought, “A great, good place to think about where’s it safe.” And he thanked me more than once for this lesson that keeps coming back, that he said, “Everybody’s happy.” And he can do it with his head held high.

Chris Goede:     And it’s setting a great example for his team about his boundaries for his personal life. Right? Like, “Oh man.” Because there are probably some people on that team that should be making that same decision.

Perry Holley:    Right.

Chris Goede:     Just hadn’t come to that conclusion yet. And so, as a leader he may even be influencing them to be able to do that same thing.

Perry Holley:    Right.

Chris Goede:     Well listen, as we wrap up maybe you don’t have a common language around leadership. We would encourage you for The five Levels of Leadership to be that. But I was thinking, “Man, this whole lesson on boundaries for leaders, can you be the boss and still be a friend?” And the answer is absolutely yes. We want to encourage you to connect. Right?

We talk a lot about relationships at level two, and how do you build those relationships. Here’s what’s so important for us, is that you connect with your people. And so, you can still connect with people, be a friend, and be their boss. Matter of fact, we would argue that, that’s where you get discretionary effort from your team. That’s where you get the most out of individuals and yourself as a leader. And then hence, the team.

Maybe you don’t have that leadership common language. Here’s a simple illustration I’ve used for years before I had that language. Which is, just talking about which hat I’m wearing. And I would have conversations with people and saying, “Hey Perry, man I got my friend Hat on right now. How’s this going? How’s Bonnie? How’s the kids? What’s going on with that whatever?”

Okay, can I just throw my, I just need to throw my John Maxwell Hat on real quick. No, I’m just kidding. . But you know what I’m saying? Maybe it’s just simple as that, so that you have some type of language and connection with people, so that they know when you’re shifting hats.

And that’s one way to do it verbally. But don’t forget to set boundaries of what you will allow yourself to get into, and what you won’t allow yourself to get into. And just communicate that. Be very clear, “Hey, I’m going to listen and I’m going to empathize with you. I’m not going to be able to solve your problem, but I want to jump down in that hole with you and be there for you as a team member. But I’m not going to be the one that solves that struggle that you’re going through.”

And then just be able to begin to manage that, and I think by doing that to your point, if you set the proper boundaries it’s easy then to stop a conversation. It’s easy then to leave an outing at night. It’s easy to, whatever it is if you set those boundaries on the front end.

Perry Holley:    That’s right. Be intentional with that.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Thank you Chris, and thank you all for joining us. If you’d like to know more about The five Levels or 360 Leadership, or anything we do to serve our clients you can find that at You can also download the learner guide for this, and leave a question or a comment for us there.

We’re very grateful you would spend this time with us today, and that’s all today from The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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