Boundaries or Burnout

Leadership

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

I recently went on a ministry trip to one of our schools. It was a hard few months leading up to the trip. I lost someone close to me, survived helping my kids through distance learning during COVID, all while trying to work from home. I remember thinking, “I don’t know how much I will have to give on this trip.”

At that moment the Lord said, “Being a strong leader means you have to let other people help pull some weight. Being in the room is all I’m asking this time.”

Those words pushed some buttons for me. I grew up in an environment where leaders never shared pain or struggle. It was always about powering through, putting on a smile, and putting others’ needs before your own. Putting on a tough appearance and having a lack of boundaries can be a fast track to resentment. Lacking limits can lead to suppressed pain (manifests in the body or as sin) and that nasty ‘B’ word, Burnout!

Leading with Vulnerability

Sometimes being a strong leader is coming in to lead with all your vulnerability. If you want to get the support you need without burning out, you’ll have to learn to be able to say “no.” You need to learn to ask for help BEFORE you are exhausted, overstretched or resentful, not after.

A few years ago, in Redding, we had the devastating Carr Fire. Sadly, much of it would have been contained if every resource were called in at the very beginning. Waiting until the fire became an imminent threat to the community was devastating. Now when there are fires, they pull in the big resources even if the fire seems to be less of a threat. My point is, don’t let your life get to a point where you can’t control the blaze of busyness.

This is a great example of taking advantage of the resources you have available before it’s too late. You can reach a point where you are too far gone to recover. This will make your body and emotions sick or worse yet, make you want to throw in the towel completely.

Doing It All Isn’t Noble

Many leaders tell me that the reason they break down is because they don’t have people they can trust around them to delegate responsibilities to. Can I say something that might be hard to hear? If you cannot trust the people around you to take responsibilities, it’s possible that your standards for perfection might be too high. We like to call this the “high stakes” mentality.

When people make mistakes, they are learning (when I’m talking about mistakes here, I’m not talking about moral mistakes). If we never let people make mistakes, and flail a little, they will never ‘find their wings’ so to say. There’s a difference between a standard of perfection and a standard of excellence. While excellence can lead to perfection, demanding perfection will never lead to excellence. Demanding perfection puts a glass ceiling on creativity, innovation, and vulnerable leadership.

Boundaries are not only the things you say “yes” to in your life, they are the things you allow others to manage as well. It takes longer sometimes to empower and equip people around you to be able to handle some of your load. If you can’t let go of things because you are afraid people will make mistakes, you will never have capable people around you. The people you lead won’t have an opportunity to grow in responsibility and excellence.

Know Your “Yes” and “No”

As a leader it’s important to lead offensively rather than defensively. To do this, you have to let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” The best leadership tips come straight from the word of God, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matthew 5:37

Have a list of things you aren’t willing to do and stick to them unless God tells you to change it. Do you need Saturdays to be for family time? Tell your team. If it’s not an emergency on Saturdays, send me an email instead of a text. Set the boundaries now, before you need them. Don’t let yourself get to a point of frustration. If you find yourself frustrated or resentful, that’s a great indicator that you haven’t set good boundaries

Know Your Limits; Make Them Known

Knowing your limitations is the first step. You need to make your limits visible through communication. If not, you will become a human land mine that explodes anytime someone crosses your invisible lines. It’s your responsibility to make it clear through your communication,  what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do. You can’t leave people guessing, this is messy and creates a culture of unspoken expectations.

It’s your responsibility to make it clear through your communication,  what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do.

When I was in First Year my Revival Group Pastor said this to me, “Don’t try to manage my time. I am a powerful person; I can manage my time for myself. If I can’t talk to you or I am busy, I will let you know. It’s not your responsibility to protect my time, it’s my responsibility.” That is a beautiful example of healthy boundaries. It relieves people from the guesswork around what is okay and not okay. When you are powerful, you are not a victim of your time and resources.

Boundaries Are Different Than Walls

A boundary is when you can look around you and confidently say, “I am responsible for this and you are responsible for that.” Havilah Cunnington says it well in her book I Do Boundaries, “We are responsible to each other but not for each other.” You are not responsible for what is not yours. Other people’s problems, other people’s mistakes, other people’s sin, other people’s relationships are not your responsibility.

Walls shut people down and shut people out. They cut others off from us and any resources we have. If you don’t create healthy boundaries, you might put up big tall unscalable walls in your life to protect yourself from abuse from the people that freely cross your boundaries. The question to ask yourself here is this, did you communicate your boundaries to them? Or did you let them trample in and out and walk all over you?

Know What Is Your Responsibility

I can’t highlight this point enough; you are responsible to make your boundaries known. Think of it as creating a fence that has gates that people can come in and out of. The only way for others to see the fence and gates is if you build it in their minds through your words and actions.

With a student it might sound a little like this, “Hey, I need you to know there is a fence here. The gate is over there, between the hours of 1pm and 3pm, I look forward to chatting then. Or, the gate will be open after I eat my lunch… the gate will be open 5 minutes after class.”

With your team it might look like, “I won’t mess up my day and cancel all my meetings because you missed a deadline. That’s outside of my fence, but would you like me to help you come up with some ideas to help you clean up the mess you made?”

With your family it might go something like this, “I need everyone to do their part. I’m giving these responsibilities back to you, they don’t belong inside my gates anymore. I am saying ‘no’ to doing too much and I am creating a healthy boundary. This is too much for only me to do, and I can’t enable you to not take care of your own responsibilities anymore.”

As a leader in your school, team, or in your family, you are responsible to others but not for others. You can give to them and empower them, but if you are doing it for them, this can cross the line into enabling. Here is another great quote from Havilah’s book, “Boundaries allow me to know the answers to life’s toughest questions: Who is the owner and who is ultimately responsible?”

Pushback

If you’ve gone without healthy boundaries in your life, when you start to communicate your boundaries, people might not like it at first. They might be comfortable letting you do it for them. They might like knowing that they can walk in and out as much or whenever they please.

It’s important to keep reiterating your ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Eventually people will know there’s a fence there. They’ll know how to find the gate and they will understand when it’s okay to come in and when it’s not. This will make them feel more loved and powerful, and they will find a greater sense of safety in their relationship with you. People will know that when you say ‘yes’ to them, you mean it and there is no resentment behind it.

A leader with boundaries, is a leader that is protecting the people they are leading as well as themselves without the use of control. You are setting yourself up for sustainability when you communicate your boundaries.

If you aren’t sure where to start, you can ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. These questions are a good place to start:

  • Do my boundaries honor my core values?
  • Do my boundaries honor the season I’m in?
  • Am I resentful and angry?
  • How can I be powerful in my relationships and ministry?

If you are burnt out, you aren’t doing anyone any favors! Not to mention, it’s just no fun to run on no energy and feel resentful all the time. I want to encourage you to evaluate your life with the Holy Spirit and let Him show you how to re-enforce the areas you need to set some boundaries in. You will empower yourself and you will empower the people around you! 

Katy Harris is a Transformation Pastor with BSSM Online and the Communications Coordinator for BSSM Alumni. Her number one core value is; ‘Revival starts in family’’ and ultimately this translates into everything that she does. She is pastoral and passionate about emotional health, cultivating healthy hearts and growing big people that thrive because they are fixed on Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit and connected to the people around them. She also loves baby sloths, working on her espresso machine skills and roller skating.

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