NPR has a radio program called TED Radio Hour. If you haven’t heard of it yet, “TED” is a small nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading. It started out as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The NPR hour combines several “TED Talks” that focus on a specific topic. The show I listened to recently, entitled Misconceptions, featured a presenter who introduced a misconception that the more choices we have, the better off we are. He argued that having more choices does not improve our lives, but rather, leads to increased stress and anxiety about making the right choice.
As he explained, I started thinking about the many choices I face every day. The idea of limitless choices sounds appealing on the surface, but it can quickly become overwhelming. After recently leading a major software implementation project, which presented several hundred challenging choices, I would support this idea, at least as it related to our project.
To further this example, there is a widely published research project in which researchers placed a group of kids in the middle of a large park that was bordered by a forest. The children did not expand much; they did not explore the whole park and, instead, tended to congregate. The research team then put a fence up around the park and had the children return to the park. With a boundary in place, the kids explored the whole park, curiously checking out every piece of equipment. The experiment concluded that boundaries provide freedom. To most of us, it would seem that boundaries would hinder freedom, but the experiment and the sentiment of the TED Talk proved otherwise.
As a leader, do you provide boundaries for your team, or are there too many choices? A popular quote — and one appropriate for this discussion — from renowned author Jim Collins, goes like this: “If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any.” Setting priorities for your team can provide them the necessary boundaries they need to free them from the stress of determining exactly what to work on, and provide them a space they can explore with confidence.
Boundaries for individuals can be defined as follows:
A set of parameters which make you a unique, autonomous and free individual, who has the freedom to be a creative, original, idiosyncratic problem solver.
I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of person I want on my team. As a leader, it is my job to create the right kind of environment to allow every member of my team to thrive. Much like the kids on the playground, people will feel a sense of freedom that can only come with boundaries.