2016 – summer Issue

How Boundaries Create Freedom

When you see the words boundary and freedom, you may assume they are contradictory. Boundaries feel restricting and confining, whereas freedom feels liberating and releasing. A boundary defines what we can?t do or where we can?t go. Freedom says we can do anything or go anywhere. We strive for freedom.

Is complete freedom realistic? Let?s take a closer look at what freedom really means. The negative definition of freedom is the absence of regulation; there are no strings controlling what you do and where you go. Being free means that you?ve thrown off your master. There is also an alternate, positive view of freedom ? not a freedom from restrictions, but a freedom to be what you are meant to be.

To take this to an extreme, I?m going to use the example of a fish. Imagine a fish wanting complete freedom from regulation; it doesn?t want to be restricted to just living in water. How is the fish going to fare on the hot pavement on a warm day? Obviously not well, because a fish wasn?t meant to survive outside the water. But, a fish can flourish in the sea, within its boundaries.

Freedom is an unleashing of potential that only comes with the embracing of our boundaries. Whether self imposed or delivered by external forces, constraints always exist. In an organization, those constraints or boundaries take on many forms. They could be based on tradition, politics, roles, environment, or leadership. More often than not, these constraints, while often unspoken, have a dramatic, limiting impact on our empowerment. Without truly knowing how far we can push, we hold back. We play it safe.

In a business environment, boundaries can be discovered and communicated through asking some key questions and then getting alignment on the answers.

Consider the following questions:

  • What do they own? Clearly establish what the group or individual is responsible for. Giving clarity around total ownership gives freedom.
  • What are they empowered to do? (What are their decisions?) For many of us, our job responsibilities come down to the decisions we make. Empowering individuals to make decisions within their boundaries increases their ownership.
  • What are their limits? (What are NOT their decisions?) Knowing where the lines are, gives freedom to explore and push within those spaces.

By defining boundaries, we unleash freedom within those confines. If the limits are clear, the possibilities within those limits become wide open. Consider where the lack of clarity may be holding your organization back, and strive for defined boundaries and the freedom that follows.