Everyone will draw their line of sand in a different place.

Some things that I consider absolute deal breakers probably wouldn’t even show up on another persons radar and the same is true in reverse.

Cultures and values are very important to me and such is my nature that these span my entire life.  Whilst I may be able to adapt between a corporate and not so much style, I am usually the same me.  That is, unless the boundaries of my values are pushed to breaking which will trigger a reaction, more often than not an explosive one.  I’m not proud of this, but I am very much aware of it.

I would like address the importance of boundaries; the power of having them and the calamity that can result when they are crossed either in isolation or consistently.  I am going to use a real life example from my work but the essence can be extracted for almost any eventuality.

Little bit of background to, hopefully, give some context…  bear with me!  In my work life the business that I am in is working for a global corporate recruitment agency which places supply teachers into schools, so effectively, temps.  I am the leader of one office of 20 covering a specific territory.

The time was early November and I was in the office when I discovered that my boss had contacted my deputy regarding taking some business out of our office and giving it to  another office (as a regional manager I reported into him and ultimately he had sign off for both offices).  I am fiercely protective of my team and as such I put forth a balanced and well structured case for this to be revisited, to no avail.  As a sales leader I know very well the importance of having the parameters of such variations tied up, so I got written confirmation this this was an incident in isolation, and not a precedent.  My own leader had effectively taken business from my office and handed it to his other office, despite the deal being done within a specific territory.

This was strike 1.

Move forward one week and I was alerted to the fact that, despite the written assertions and the clear setting of boundaries, that the actual deal had been extended and in addition to that the ‘ownership’ of the client record had been changed from my office to the other office.

I called my boss on the phone in the other office, wishing to avoid the horrors of email communication, “Hey, I’ve noticed that this client has been changed into your office, we are working with this client on other vacancies so how do we manage this moving forward?”

“I signed that off because we spoke to IT and the Payroll Departments and they told us that this was how it had to be set up.” was the response from my boss, which is fair enough.  Hold on though, this is where it starts to get interesting…

There was a little more interaction but ultimately we signed off the call.  Within a few moments I received an email from my boss, which was actually a forwarded email from one of his deputies (the person who has been handed this business) which went along these lines:

“Sorry if I’ve caused a problem for you here.  I have no idea why the client ownership has been changed, it certainly hasn’t happened in this office and I’ve changed it back now”.

Do you see it?  Within moments, we have gone from a detailed explanation on the phone that involved two other departments and his own sign off to one of his own team having no idea why it had been changed and, in fact, confirming that it had not even happened in that office.

This was Strike 2.

Move forward yet another week.  This time my boss was actually spending some time in my office on this day.  I had done my morning circle time with my reports; I remember the specific area of focus was profile writing and elevator pitches with a time-bound exercise to write a profile that we would review and then go to the phones to take the candidate to market.

Later on, after the working day had ended I got a call while I was driving so I pressed the little call answer button on my steering wheel , normally I wouldn’t take calls on my journey home but it was my boss…

“I didn’t really appreciate the way that you spoke to me earlier, I want you to explain to me why you thought it would be appropriate to talk to your Regional Manager in that way.”  This was his opening line to me, I could hear there was a tremble in his voice though, I knew he wasn’t totally comfortable with this interaction.

“Oh? Sorry about that, can you let me know exactly what you mean?”

“Earlier today, you called me out in front of the team and in front of HR and asked me not to speak to one of the team, even though you have asked me to get to know them.  I am your Regional Manager, would you have done that if the Managing or Operations Director were in my place?”

I mean, I take his point but this is a sales team and I am there sales leader.  I had set a task and that task did not include a conversation about the amateur Rugby teams in Hitchin and the surrounding areas… 

“I’m really sorry, that certainly wasn’t my intention.  I had simply set the team a time-bound exercise and needed them to be on task.  In regard to your question, yes if it was anyone else I probably would have done the same thing, it is my job to lead the team and ultimately I had a task that needed to be done and had set a time in which that needed to be done”.

From this point the conversation became circular and the position of Regional Manager was repeated again and I realised very quickly that actually this was an issue that was gaining momentum exponentially.

I drew my line in the sand, and it was not pretty. 

When I said that I lost it, this is no understatement.

Full disclosure:  I can’t quote myself because the red mist of anger had descended to almost completely opaque with the result being that I have no recollection of what actually spewed forth.

I had the clarity of mind and the sense of self enough to call HR and asked could I go back to the office to talk through what had happened.  I turned the car around and  drove back to the office blinking back the tears of frustration.  When I got back to the office the HR person met me in the office and took me into a meeting room where I recounted the entire saga, warts and all.  It was at this point, as I looked into the glazed eyes of the HR person, that I realised where I was standing…  I was standing firmly outside of all of my boundaries.

I believe that boundaries are the safety net that allow us to use the Trapeze that is our Intuition.  I am in the fortunate position that I have an amazing fiancé at home so I went home after that meeting with HR and ran through it all with José and we immediately decided that there are two possible courses of action:

  1.  Try to massage myself, and the situation, back within my boundaries.
  2.  Remove myself from the equation.

So, in the words of Patsy Stone from the hit TV series Absolutely Fabulous I said to myself, “Darling, finish the Beaujolais and walk away from it all!

For all of my adult life I have thought that my instincts were the most important driver in my behaviours, time and again I have said after the fact, I should’ve just trusted my instincts.  As it turn out, could it be the case that our instincts work in line with the boundaries that we have set for ourselves?

The case in point here is that until I had made the decision to not disturb my peace I had not factored in moving away from my major income source, however, from that point onwards all of my instincts were geared towards survival.  This was a great lesson and one that we could all stand to learn – I guess its the more literal version of “If you can dream it, you can achieve it”.  The fact is, if you set your boundaries, your instincts will keep you on course.

Within one week I had secured a new role that was a promotion, as part of securing that new role I had made my boundaries extremely clear and been able to transfer this learning to the new trajectory.  This course of action, this identification of boundaries, has allowed me to make a dignified transition.  As a result I can respect myself, my previous colleagues and understand that even in the midst of a perceived injustice the best outcome could be that we evaluate our boundaries and then trust our instincts.

We all have to be big enough and ugly enough to understand that sometimes, despite our best intentions, we are part of the problem.  That being said, even though we live in a world where we all have responsibilities, that is no excuse for not living your best life.  There is always a choice…  it might not be want you want, and it almost certainly will not be easy but there is a choice nonetheless.

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