The Importance of Setting Boundaries for New Leaders and Established Ones Too!

New leaders can often be daunted by trying to establish and achieve their new priorities and objectives. They must also learn to say no, which is critical to being a strong leader, so you can stay focused on what is most important to your success.

For example, you may have become accustomed to saying “yes” to requests and tasks that elevated you to your new position. This may be a result of your get-things-done attitude that your leaders appreciated and valued from you in your past role. Now you find yourself on the other side of the desk and you are tasked with delivering results through your people.

As a leader you need to inspire your team. You need to learn to delegate and lead decisively. Additionally, your previous peers will now be looking to you for direction and decision-making. Adjusting to your new role means you will be doing a juggling act until you have your “leadership feet” under you.

I have one word that is essential to everything you do in your new leadership role, and in life in general - boundaries.

Your number one goal is to create a team of engaged employees, so it’s important to implement initiatives that keep them happy, productive and passionate about their work. At the same time, you also need to strike the proper balance by ensuring initiatives designed to make them more engaged do not create strain and unnecessary demand. Just more of the balancing act you need to adapt to.

While it’s important to give our employees flexibility, perks, and opportunities to improve their professional career and overall development, we also want to ensure we pay attention to work/life balance as this is an aspect of work that will always need focus now and post-pandemic. Giving people certain autonomy to be creative in the workplace is part of helping them grow, however, sometimes it’s necessary to say “no,” which can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are new to leadership and eager to make a strong impression in your new role.

What’s the best way to strike the right balance? Establish clear boundaries for yourself and learn how to say “no” or level set proper expectations on when things can be delivered which is part of the boundary-setting process.  We often assume everything that comes our way is a priority for the requesting party, when, in fact, it might not be. So, be clear and specific in your communication to ensure your expectations are in alignment.

Develop Clear Roles, Responsibilities and Set Proper Expectations

As I previously mentioned, it is critical that you are clear and specific in both your verbal and written communications. A clear framework is essential to ensuring everyone knows exactly what their role and responsibilities are and what your expectations are of them and vice versa.

Having a clear understanding of this serves as guidelines when you need to say “no” or negotiate on a project or deliverable that is competing with all your other priorities. 

Similarly, being clear on who is responsible for what and by when also provides a framework for establishing expectations.  Also, ensure it is discussed and agreed to, not assumed. This can only work if there is an ongoing exchange of expectation-setting happening in your discussions, and it will also save a tremendous amount of lost time working with assumptions and ambiguity.  

Apologies Are Not Always Necessary

If you want your employees to look up to you as their new leader, you may be tempted to say things such as “I’m sorry, but…”  However, you can’t invoke respect if you always apologize for something that is crucial to the efficiency of the organization. You are simply making decisions based on the foundational framework from which everyone needs to work. You don’t need to apologize, and you don’t need to over-explain your reasoning either. Simply provide some rationale and context so others understand what is happening and help them re-prioritize their To Do list in order to relieve the pressure and show support for your people. 

There Are Alternatives to “No”

If your employee asks for something that you are unable to give them, offer a compromise or alternative, if possible. You may also want to ask them for alternative ideas that align with both parties needs and are reasonable.

For example, if you cannot grant an employee time off during a particularly crucial period, your “no” could be followed by an alternative or a solution that may not have been considered. When you both agree on this, your employee will feel a lot more engaged, respected and included in the decision-making process.

Be Open to Questions Before Saying “No”

If employees have ideas they want to act on, you may feel the instinct to say “no” immediately if they do not seem conducive to the organization or team’s objectives and purpose. Instead, take a broader perspective and consider asking some questions such as:

  • What do you like about this idea?
  • How do you see this benefitting the team or organization?
  • How did you come up with the idea?

When you lead with questions, it facilitates more productive collaboration of ideas and brainstorming that fosters creativity, engagement, and inclusivity.

Practice Saying “No” Yourself

As you face your “top-down” leadership role, remember you still need to hone the ability to say “no” to your superiors. If you say yes to everything to impress, and rise further in your career, you will likely become overworked, exhausted, and burned out. You now have a team to delegate to, so be sure you do so wisely!

Remember, you don’t have to do it all; you just have to know how to get it done.  This means involving other people, making tough decisions, and speaking from a place of sound judgment and confidence. 

How to Handle Saying “No”

Are you new to your leadership role? Have you experienced a difficult time transitioning? As an experienced leader are you still having a tough time saying “no”? 

I would love to hear about the challenges. Feel free to reach out. I’m happy to take you through some strategies that will help make saying “no” easier than you think. You can reach me by calling me at 1.855.871.3374 or by emailing me at I look forward to hearing from you!

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