A Review of
Boundaries for Leaders
Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge
By Dr. Henry Cloud
I came across Boundaries for Leaders after listening to an Entre Leadership podcast on the importance of mentors. What really drew me into the book was the idea that learning to lead required us to better understand how the brain functions. Dr. Henry Cloud explained that if you aren’t leading in a way that people’s brains can follow you are losing out on your most talented resource – the skills of the people on your team (p. 25). Being ridiculously in charge means that you as a leader are in control and Cloud emphasized, “as a leader, you always get what you create and what you allow” (p. xvi). It’s your responsibility as a leader to set boundaries. Essentially, you have to decide the positive boundaries and what negatives are off the table. (Screenshot from Amazon.ca)
Cloud explained the importance of understanding the brain’s executive function. In particular, he focused on attention, inhibition and working memory. As a leader, we need to help people focus on specific goals, help them stay on the right track (inhibit distraction and toxicity) and retain and build on relevant information to create a repeatable pattern in our working memory (p. 27). When you consciously lead with these in mind, you can unleash a whole other level of efficiency for your team.
As a consultant, I attend many meetings. Cloud shared that it’s not necessarily less meetings that we need it’s better meetings. It’s your job as a leader to focus your team on the purpose of the meeting, prevent distractions and enable a flow of ideas so that meetings energize your team. Cloud reminded that not only is positive or negative mood contagious, emotions will affect your team performance. Take fear, for example. There are different types. Healthy fear or positive stress will help people to achieve clear goals or meet their deadlines. Toxic fear, however, paralyzes people. Their brains are physically unable to focus on what they need to do (p.65). As Simon Sinek explained in Leaders Eat Last, their primal brain is taking over to promote survival over everything else.
Cloud shared a story of a young Olympic gold medal athlete whose performance had surpassed and surprized those around her. She explained the conversation that her parents had with her when they noticed how her fear of failing affected her ability to do her best. She noted how her parents had sat her down and said that it was okay to make mistakes and not win. They would still love her just the same. She told the interviewer “knowing that failing was OK made her able to succeed” (p. 71). Cloud highlighted that this freed her brain up to “use every mistake as a learning opportunity” (p.71).
What type of environment or culture do you help to create? Brain research shows that a constant ongoing threat invokes the flight or flight response rather than increasing self awareness so that we can learn from our experiences. As leaders, it’s important for us to remember that for our team to learn from their mistakes, they have to be in a state where they know it’s okay to make mistakes. If your followers live in fear of what you’ll do to them next, no one wins (p.74-75).
- As an educator, it’s reminded me of the importance of consciously creating a positive collaborative learning culture. Both students and teachers have to know that it’s safe to step outside their comfort zone because experience is how we learn.
- Leadership in any style influences the lives of the followers. Regardless of whether or you are a transformational servant leader or a strong transactional leader, the effectiveness of your team lies in understanding how what you do impacts and sets the tone for all other interactions. After all you do get what you create.
- My only challenge with this book is that Cloud referenced many research based concepts and while he credits specific people, studies or institutions in the context of the book, there isn’t a collection of references included in the edition that I had access too. While I don’t doubt his scientific links, I’ve just appreciated the access to the specific research cited in other books that I have read.
- Cloud also noted the value of clear communication including being aware of what your non-verbal body language is saying to your team.
- Cloud offered practical strategies and reflective questions to help readers better understand how they can make a positive difference as a leader. He also acknowledged that change isn’t easy and there is no quick fix, but when you lead in ways that make sense to people’s brains they will follow.
It turns out that what you do today matters in the story that you write tomorrow… not just for yourself but those around you.
Cloud, D. (2013). Boundaries For Leaders Results, Relationships and Being Ridiculously in Charge. USA: Harper Collins.