Why do boundaries, fences, restraints bother and frustrate us so much? One reason is that somewhere in our past someone has unfairly boxed us in, and we’ve decided not to let that happen again.
Or, we’ve been trained, through the bad experiences of the past, to despise commands, instructions, authority and accountability.
Or we view any kind of limitation as a rejection of our creativity and our freedom.
Or our need to self-express is far greater than the need to “work the team agenda” and thus we reject any attempt, by someone outside ourselves, to direct, channel or control us.
Or we’ve never had any good leadership, accountability or management, so we really have been left alone to wander, guided by our own impulses, thoughts and ideas about what’s right to do.
I had a very interesting experience that helps illustrate this point. A couple of managers called me to inquire about Ann (not her real name), a MGO from another non-profit that we worked with at the time. They had a MGO position open and wondered what I thought about her and her work.
I said: “I think Ann is not only a wonderful person but a very good MGO. She is good technically in the area of major gifts, she follows instructions, is a hard worker and is one of the better MGOs I’ve seen in a long time.”
“What?!” they almost screamed. “We heard you thought highly of her, but our experience with her was a disaster. She was lazy, not motivated and more interested in doing her own thing than the work before her. How can you say she’s so good? That’s impossible!”
I was surprised by their reaction until it suddenly dawned on me what was going on.
Prior to us working with Ann, she had been part of a major gift management and strategy system that was broken and failing. The bureaucrat that was in charge of the program for this organization (and Ann) knew a lot about major gifts, but practically nothing about managing a major gift program, the economics of major gifts and, just as important, how to constructively hold a MGO accountable to do the work they must do.
It was a disaster! In fact, as Jeff and I have looked at all the programs this person managed, they’re in such a state of disrepair that it’s hard to believe that management allowed the program to continue. But they did and, as a result, Ann suffered, as did many other MGOs.
No one called Ann to a higher place. No one told Ann what was expected. No one corrected or redirected Ann when she was off point or headed down the wrong path. No one encouraged Ann and told her what she was doing right.
And, therefore, no one saw the real Ann! And THAT is the real tragedy. No one saw the REAL Ann. Not even Ann herself. Why? Because what Ann needed was direction, accountability and focus. Ann needed boundaries – a clear view of what she was doing right, what was expected, what she needed to stop doing, etc.
And that’s what we provided Ann. And the real Ann emerged. The beautiful productive professional Ann. The Ann her former colleagues just cannot believe really exists. It’s a wonderful thing to see.
Jeff and I operate this way in our relationship. We each contribute our strength to each other and to the work we’re committed to doing. That contribution is positive and encouraging. And it’s also about accountability, re-direction and truth telling. There are times Jeff wants to scream at me in frustration over a suggestion I’ve made. And there are times I want to whack him in the head for words of truth he has given to me about something I’m doing.
Here’s the thing. We need this. We need it in all of our relationships. Because, as we’ve said many times before in this blog, we can’t do all of this (work and life) alone. We need the wisdom, truth and experiences of others.
So when someone in your life, whether it’s your boss, colleague, spouse, friend, significant other – when someone wants to speak truth into your life, run towards it and embrace it! It’s a gift, not a constraint. (Tweet it!) It will help you, not hurt you. It will make you better.
I love fences.