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Posts Tagged ‘organizational ADD’


I used to read a fair amount of Henry Cloud. Tapes of his were common in my car for a few years while I was going through an MA program in Counseling. I ran a Boundaries group with a classmate of mine as well.

At some point Cloud seems to have shifted from counseling to consulting. He applies the same psychological concepts and adding some results of research in neuroscience to the business world.

As I was looking for a book on effective leadership, Boundaries for Leaders caught my eye. Most books on leadership I’ve read have been about being a godly person as well as some of the struggles of leadership. I was looking for something that focused more on leading a group and building a culture. This book looked like it may be helpful.

“.. the leader sets the boundaries that will determine whether the vision and the people thrive or fail.”

Cloud begins with the reality that people matter. He doesn’t approach this from a theological view (imago dei) but rather the practical reality that bringing a vision to reality requires people. Healthy people have healthy boundaries, and so do healthy leadership groups. He identifies seven boundaries necessary for people’s brains to work efficiently.

Leaders are “always building teams and culture.” When an unhealthy team and culture are built, the team becomes dysfunctional and filled with blame games, pettiness, mediocrity and downward morale.

Culture is established by what you build or by what you allow. You can actively build a healthy culture or you can passively allow an unhealthy culture to form. The role of the leader is to actively build a culture. Boundaries can help us “cut through the noise” so we can make better decisions. The leader chooses what information to let in and what to keep out (not because it is ‘negative’ but unnecessary and distracting).

Cloud talks about leading so brains can work. He talks about the brain’s executive functions: attention, inhibition and working memory. Leaders set boundaries so this happens. You want to get rid of the “organizational ADD” and rabbit trails that keep you from getting work done. You also inhibit bad behavior. Getting the work done includes where you are going, how you are going to get there, persisting in getting there, the time frame to get there and solving problems in the way of getting there.

He shifts into the emotional climate that helps us perform. He talks about hijacking and flooding. Discussion devolves into yelling, accusations and the fight or flight response. The emotional tone of meetings is important, and boundaries can greatly affect that emotional tone. A healthy boundary keeps unhealthy attitudes and behavior out. People agree such actions or language are not permitted and self-police rather than watching a co-worker be attacked.

A healthy boundary allows critique, asking how can. we do this better?. It also prohibits criticism which focuses on what someone did wrong and feel much more like a personal attack.

He discusses both fear as a positive motivator and a destructive force. Fear of not having a job can motivate behavior. It is the fear of circumstances produced by bad behavior. When you are afraid of a person instead of concerned with an issue, it is destructive. You don’t act or speak as necessary because you are afraid of how someone will respond. He also brings in the notion of reward. He doesn’t formulate this in terms of covenant with blessings and sanctions, but that is essentially what Cloud is talking about.

He shifts to the importance of relationship in a leadership team. Healthy relationships reduce stress in the team. Just as failure to thrive as a child is a result of parental neglect, a failure to thrive professionally can be a result of neglect by leadership. Leadership fosters “connection and unity.” Where there is no positive connection suspicion, paranoia and conflict will thrive. That isn’t what you want to thrive. You need to invest in the team and its relationships. That includes conflict resolution, emotional repair and listening.

Good leadership provides a gate on thinking. Boundaries let in positive discussion but keeps out negativity. Negativity is called the “Can’t be Done” virus. Healthy thinking admits obstacles but doesn’t obsess on obstacles as unsolvable. Unhealthy thinking is also paralysis by analysis. When you try to keep that out, bad things can happen so be forewarned.

“Focus your people on what they have control of that directly affects the desired outcome of the organization.”

One tool of leadership is the relationship between control and results. You can’t necessarily control results, but you can control things that affect outcomes. You want to cultivate personal responsibility. Instead of trying to control everything, let “others be in control of what they should be in control of that drives results.” Make war on learned helplessness and address error repeaters. The way to change outcomes is to change the behaviors that affect outcomes.

“… what drives strong performance is a commitment to a shared vision and shared goals with behaviors and relationships aligned with reaching those goals.”

Cloud then shifts to trust. He talks about the things that build trust. If we don’t feel trust, we won’t invest ourselves in a project. Leaders are asking people to invest their hearts, minds and souls in them.

He then talks about boundaries for yourself. You don’t want your weaknesses to sink your ship, so establish boundaries so they don’t. He advocates for being an open system, receiving output from others. He addresses fear again. The bottom line is that “the first person you have to lead is yourself.”

“Remember, you never need new ways to fail. The old ones are working just fine. And until they are addressed, they will continue to work.”

He wraps up with three kinds of leaders: those aware of the issues in the book and inclined to apply them; those for whom this is new but are open to them; and those who will resist the notion that people are the plan and continue to just work the plan as if relationships were irrelevant in an organization.

This book is geared for the business world, which is different in some significant ways from the world of church leadership. Sometimes there are church staff for which this book applies most directly. When dealing with lay leadership it is more challenging. Enforcing boundaries can be trickier since there isn’t the motivation of a paycheck.

But this book gave me plenty to think about and apply as I try to shift the culture of our leadership and congregation. I think it was worth my time, and will be worth your time. At times it can be a little “rah, rah” but mostly this is helpful. I’ve begun to implement some of it already and will continue to discuss this among our leaders.

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