Swiss cheese vs. the steel wall
“You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay or not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.” — Brené Brown*
One of the questions our office often receives, is “What does leadership have to do with law?” For us, it is everything. If the leaders of our clients’ companies do not have strong leadership skills, legal issues that are preventable can often arise. In fact, many applicable business laws are not followed due to a lack of understanding of potential conflicts or a lack of skill in implementing strong processes. This is counter to a common misconception that business leaders intentionally choose not to follow the law. While there are always a few bad apples, many small business leaders are simply not trained on how to avoid or minimize the type of conflicts that lead to serious legal issues. After considering all that we have learned in our decades of experience working with clients in a confidential setting, our team found that the biggest challenge, at the root of preventable legal issues, is a lack of trust between parties. Thus, we continue our series this year with “Where the Rubber Meets the Road” starting with: Boundaries.
I will never forget the first time I heard that boundaries were permeable, like Swiss cheese. I had learned the importance of boundaries when I was a young professional, but I had always thought of my personal boundary as a thick, tall steel wall. At the time, my thought was, you are either on my side of the wall, or you are on that side of the wall. Ouch. Imagine what it felt like for the colleagues in my life who I had, quite artlessly, placed on the other side of that wall. I am sure it didn’t feel good. Instead of going to my past employers when things were going south, I would simply quit. At the time, I told myself that this behavior was justified, but when I look back, I realize I had missed many opportunities to attempt to keep relationships intact. Had I stayed and tried to work through the issues, I might have been surprised by a promotion or advancement.
This idea of certain boundaries being a way to separate ourselves from harm has a strong parallel to the current debate going on related to the idea of “cancel culture,” which typically means the boycotting of a person or business because of a real or perceived harm.
Later in my professional life, I learned about this whole permeable boundary idea, and frankly, I wasn’t sure I could do it, because the concept of a permeable boundary is this: You have to communicate your boundaries in a loving, direct way, long before you are upset. You have to ask for what you need well in advance of a conflict, and you have to be specific and realistic. Thus, a permeable boundary is all about communicating the boundary with those around you. It means, that people can come and go from that boundary. It also means, that you don’t “cancel” people, or cut them out of your life until you have given your best ‘A’ effort to communicate your needs and you see that your boundaries are not respected by those you have shared them with.
In the professional space, in order to minimize legal issues, there are many ways to use of healthy, Swiss-cheese boundaries. Here is a quick list of some of our favorites.
I hope this post and these examples help you come up with many other places this shows up in your professional lives. Please contact us if you would like more information about how the use of boundaries can be used to minimize legal issues in your company.
*NOTE: Our theme for 2020 is “Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” and includes the Elements of Trust, outlined in the book, Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown. They are: Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Nonjudgment, and Generosity, aka “BRAVING.” All quotes, unless stated otherwise, are to this book.