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The Open Borders Crowd

How many of you favor having an open border with Mexico? I suspect many of you would take offense if I called you an open borders advocate. Yet, the vast majority of us practice open borders every day. We do it every day in our workplaces and homes.

Dr. Henry Cloud, in his best-selling Boundaries for Leaders, makes a statement that drives this home.  He uses boundaries to describe the behaviors that leaders allow in their organization. After researching and working with hundreds of organizations and studying behavior and the workings of the brain, Dr. Cloud’s conclusion fits right into the current immigration debate.  “Leaders always get what they create and what they allow.”  You may create a vision of a legal immigration system, but if you allow anyone to come in, regardless of status, how long will that vision last?

Most organizations believe they do an above average job in creating a vision. Dr. Cloud would disagree and provide some suggestions on how to communicate in the way our brains work.  The more interesting part of Boundaries for Leaders deals with what happens when we try to implement the vision. Whether a company or a home, we develop a plan to move toward the vision and rules to help us negotiate situations that arise.   So why don’t all visions or family dreams come true?

Most of us start with the plan and fail because we start making exception to the rules.  You know the exception dance: “just this one time”, “this wasn’t anticipated”, “this is a special case”, or “he/she is someone we need to make an exception for.” Each time a part of the boundary (or border) comes down. Before long, the borders around the company, the culture, and the plan’s strategic advantage are completely down.  People see these exceptions and they start to stress over what is allowed and what isn’t. When the brain experiences increased uncertainty, it slows down. Worse yet, if you are unsure of what is allowed or not allowed, the safest option is DO NOTHING. Ask the border patrol, or the middle manager in an organization with high executive level turnover.

Studies with children and borders suggest this is just common sense. When playgrounds have fences, children will play anywhere. When fences are removed, children stay close to the building and effectively cut their playgrounds in half. Doesn’t it make sense that when boundaries are inconsistent, your productivity decreases as uncertainty and anxiety increase?

So spend some time this summer reviewing your employee manual and business plans. Focus on listing every exception you have to each policy or directive. This is not easy but will be worth it. Then ask yourself, “If I saw this rule and knew of the exceptions to this rule (but not the reason), how would I react?” Then either change the rule or change the exception.

Either way, your employee playground will grow.

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