Coaches often make a distinction between standards and boundaries. We assist our clients to understand the distinction, to set their standards and boundaries, and to live accordingly. Being clear, firm, and yet flexible in this regard is a critical habit for success. Read on to make this habit come alive for you.
Last week I followed my Provision about learning from experience with a discussion about the value of affirming yourself daily. That was not accidental. Although humans have a large capacity for learning, we often fail to learn in deep, meaningful, and sustainable ways. At those moments, the practice of self-affirmation becomes all the more important.
That’s the beauty of being human! We can even learn from failing to learn. Or, as one friend used to say, “No one is a failure • one can always serve as a bad example.” When our learning is not as swift or as profound as we might hope, when our habits resist change in spite of our best efforts, view this as the perfect opportunity to enter into a coaching conversation with yourself and with others about how to set things right. That’s so much better than beating yourself up and bringing yourself down.
Two of the areas in which people have a lot to learn are in the area of standards and boundaries. We often work on these areas with our coaching clients. The distinction is simple: standards are things we hold ourselves to while boundaries are things we hold others to. For example, if we do not use illegal substances on principle • that’s a standard. If we do not allow others to use illegal substances in our home or in our presence • that’s a boundary.
Do you know your standards and boundaries? When was the last time you wrote them down? If it’s been more than a year, or if you’ve never committed them to writing, I suggest that you make that a part of your mornings for the next two weeks. This week, we’ll focus on standards. Next week, we’ll focus on boundaries. Take the time this week to write down at least two standards every morning. By this time next week, you should have a list of at least 14 standards that you live by, values that you adhere to, things that you do for your own well-being and the well-being of others.
One dynamic that lies behind the distinction between standards and boundaries is the dynamic of power and control. If standards are things we hold ourselves to and boundaries are things we hold others to, then standards are things over which we have more power and control • at least in theory • than boundaries. It behooves us to set and embody standards that make us healthy, wealthy, and wise • without destroying the earth and other living things in the process.
The need for standards and boundaries is seldom more apparent than in the modern workplace. These sink-or-swim pressure cookers can become an excuse for throwing standards and boundaries to the winds. Worse yet, they can become an environment where the so-called “bottom line” is the only standard and boundary that anyone recognizes or respects.
So what’s wrong with that? Isn’t capitalism all about making money? No. Capitalism has become the handmaiden of democracy because many view it as the best way to secure those cherished values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When the workplace sacrifices those values to the bottom-line of company profitability, everyone stands to lose.
Right now I am enjoying Jennifer White’s latest and last book (she died an untimely death since the publication of the book), Drive your People Wild without Driving Them Crazy. Jennifer talks a lot about this dynamic with wonderfully concrete and edgy illustrations. For example: she argues that putting people before profit is the best way to achieve the profits we so often covet.
One corollary of this standard: when you’re with someone, be with him or her. Make it a principle to not take phone calls, including cell phone calls, or to engage in side conversations until you have completed your conversation with that person. Interrupting a conversation to talk with someone or to do something else dishonors the person you are with and lets him or her know that they are not as important to you as someone or something else. It’s not a good habit for success. “Be present to what’s going on in the moment,” Jennifer writes, “and handle phone calls at another time.”
To set and embody this standard may require not only a new way of thinking about your home and work life, it may also require you to inform the people in your life that you are going to start living by this standard. Once people know what to expect, they will accept and respect your commitment. And they will look forward to talking with you all the more.
This process of breaking your standards down to the granular level is the only way to make them come alive. Broad sweeping statements of standards, like impeccable honesty, don’t mean much until they get translated into the nitty-gritty details of daily life. So once you come up with your two standards for the day, write out two applications. Answer this question about each one, “How would people notice that I live by this standard if I truly embodied this standard in all that I am and do?”
Let me know what you come up with!
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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