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Boundaries, Barriers, or Limiting Beliefs?

P1040304Co-active coach Cynthia Loy Darst kicked off the ICF Midwest Coaching Conference, “Breaking Boundaries,” by asking us to think about the differences between boundaries, bariers, and limiting beliefs. Here’s what my table came up with:

Boundaries that we set ourselves can be extremely healthy. For leaders, boundaries can:

  • Help us know when to say yes and when to say no
  • Create healthy workplaces for ourselves and for those we lead
  • Define our goals in purposes in ways that allow us to move forward

In contrast, barriers keep us from doing things. They can be external, whether imposed by others, by society, by circumstances, by prejudices, or by very real factors such as professional standards or our own health concerns or constraints on time or money.

Leaders need to examine barriers by asking questions such as:

  • Can we break through a barrier, such as when they are a result of prejudices or thinking too narrowly about a situation?
  • Are the barriers in everyone’s best interest? We certainly want our doctors to have the right training and appreciate barriers that keep just anyone from practicing medicine! On a personal level, being very clear about the finite amount energy we have and realizing the very real constraint on being all things to all people is also in our best interest.
  • Is it time to be a barrier breaker? Some barriers have outlived their usefulness to everyone. For example the Hormel Foundation sees lack of internet connection in their home town, Austin, MN, as a barrier to rigorous education for every student in the Austin schools, so they are investing in improving the town’s infrastructure. Scientists break through barriers in research. Civil rights activists have permanently dismantled countless barriers. Is it your turn?

Limiting beliefs keep us stuck within unhealthy boundaries and/or barriers. My table group talked about how difficult it is to overcome these since they’re often hidden deep within us. They’re the “We can’t because..” “I’ll never because…” “It’s impossible because…” tapes running in our subconscious that keep us stuck where we are.

In their new book Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath provide great tools for making better decisions–and many of them also help you set boundaries, break through barriers and unearth limiting beliefs. I highly recommend the whole text, but try using just this one to break through a barrier today.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Stop thinking Either/Or[/quote]

It’s the subject of my whole new book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences, but for an immediate application, choose a dilemma you’re facing with two choices. One of the examples the Heaths give is the approach we take to personnel: should we put up with or fire the ineffective employee? Well, a third alternative (which may not always work) is figuring out how to make their job a better fit for them. Can they spend more time in an area that is a good fit by redistributing work amongst different people? Do they lack a specific skill that they might be willing to work on?

The Heaths go into more detail on how often we think either/or when there are lots of alternatives. Keep dating this person or break up? Choose between math curricula A or B? Cut hours or cut employees? Cut services or cut research? This either/or thinking creates barriers to potential solutions by limiting our beliefs about what can and can’t be done.

Try it. What barriers or limiting beliefs can you break today?

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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