Boundaries Are Essential—And As CEO, It Starts With Me

CEO

As many workplaces continue to try to coax people back into offices, and employees continue to resist, it seems like it’s worth having a serious chat about boundaries.

In 2021 alone, four million people quit their jobs. Every. Single. Month! And that trend has continued. In March 2022, 6.4 million people did the same. If quitting isn’t the ultimate expression of a boundary, then I don’t know what is. It’s a hard line that says: No more. We’re done. Thanks, but no thanks. You have to wonder, though, what might have happened had their workplaces embraced discussing and setting reasonable boundaries that support healthier, happier people: fair pay, more balance, work from home instead of a soul-sucking commute, no email expectation in off hours. Maybe we wouldn’t be dealing with the Great Resignation (just saying).

It’s not too late. If you’re a CEO or in a position of leadership, model your own boundaries for everyone and give them explicit permission to do the same. At CoderPad, I give everyone access to a “Working With Amanda” manual. It’s not long – 10 bullets or so – but it is the “user guide” to working with me. It’s mainly so that people know my rhythms, never feel pressure to work when I do, and to underscore that my family is also very much my priority so my time with them is precious and protected.

Here are some of the highlights.

• I clearly outline when I’m with my kids before and after school (5 to 8:30 – in the morning and night) – and say that I will get back via slack or email after starting the day or post-bedtime.

• My personal style is to slack/email folks when I can – this may be outside their working hours. I underscore that this is solely because of my kid schedule and there is no obligation or expectation to get back to me right away. And I mean it (that’s the most important point – don’t put this out to employees if you aren’t sincere. You’ll erode trust and look like a jerk).

• If you can’t find me on slack and you need me, text me. Why? Because when I’m not in meetings, I’m a thinker who requires coffee. I’m often wandering around my kitchen – or neighborhood – to get it while thinking through work stuff.

I also think boundary setting means establishing expectations and norms upfront so I do some of that too. For me, this includes elements like:

• Ask forgiveness, not permission. Just go already! I hire smart, capable people and I want them to have the room to run.

• I like simplicity and directness so please do not sit on bad news, tell everything like it is, push back when things don’t make sense, and be candid. And expect the same of me.

• 1:1s with me are for employees so come knowing what you want to get out of our time together. Agendas are good.

• Leaders do the right thing the right way. Everyone can be a leader.

• What you’re not doing is as important as what you are doing. I push on what we’re not doing and regularly kill features and projects purely for focus reasons.

• Track projects, update me, and keep me looped in. I don’t need a ton of detail every time but even a “Will do” or “ack” (for acknowledged) is enough to connect the dots.

Leadership is a complete privilege. Every day, every lucky CEO has an opportunity to set the tone for the organization. You get to help shape what that tone is like—and you are shaping the tone, so you should be deliberate about it. Is it one where you, purely through your own example, take the time you need, prioritize the not-work stuff as much as the work, set clear expectations, and ensure employees feel the freedom to do the same?

If the answer’s no, time to rethink the tone and vibe you’re putting out there. And maybe ask some questions to understand why everyone is quitting.

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