Thriving Beyond Fear: Encourage Your Team’s Creativity By Setting Clear Boundaries [With Video]

Written by Darren Kanthal

February 28, 2024

A photo of a guardrail

Video Transcription:

Today, I want to talk to you about guardrails. For me, guardrail is a term I like — boundaries are the term we’re hearing a lot about, which I think is getting overused — the playing field, all these things mean the same thing. And the story I wanted to tell you is about what scientists did with kids.

Defining the Guardrails

There was a study that was done where these scientists brought a bunch of kids onto a playground with their teacher. And it was just an open playground, no boundaries, no fence, no nothing, no guardrails. And what they found was that the children stayed really close to their teacher and close to their schoolmates. The proximity to each other felt safer. They weren’t going to be so far away from everybody. They weren’t going to get lost. So they all kind of huddled relatively close together.

The second part of this experiment was — the same kids and the same teacher on a playground, but this time, there was a fence around the playground, and what they found was that with that fence, the kids were everywhere. Climbing on the fence, in every corner, every nook and cranny — everywhere within the safety of those guardrails, of that boundary. And that story really illustrates what I think strongly about – what I find with a lot of my clients and a lot of people I talk to at work —- which is the boundaries, the guardrails, the fencing, the playing field is not well defined.

Fear in Lack of Boundaries

What happens is a lot of people I’m partnering with, there’s something fear-based going on, meaning they are playing safe, that they are not being creative. They are relying on what they’ve always done. They’re lending themselves to the first and maybe obvious solution to a problem because there’s fear. There’s fear they’re going to be fired. There’s fear they’re gonna fail. There’s fear; they’re gonna be ridiculed. There’s fear in the lack of boundaries, the lack of guardrails.

On the flip side, when I work with leaders who define the guardrails for the people who report to them and when they establish the guardrails their leader has for them — what I find is that they start to flourish. That creativity, taking action, and being innovative in brainstorming — all these things start to thrive, and they start to flourish. All because it is clear what’s expected of me — to some general or specific nature. I know the guardrails, and I know what the boundaries are. I know the playing field. I know what you’re expecting of me. It’s especially empowering to let someone know that you believe in trial and error.

Establish the Playing Field

A lot of us are okay to try, but then we don’t do well with the error part, as if we’re infallible or we cannot make mistakes. It’s ridiculous. So, really, the point I want to drive home here is when you are a leader — for the leaders watching: set clear guardrails, boundaries, fencing. Establish the playing field for the people that report to you.

Try to do the same with your leaders who are leading you and watch and see — do people feel more secure in the job they’re doing? Do they start to be more creative? Do they think outside the box, which is another buzzword? It’s really those boundaries and those guardrails that allow us to feel safe. Just like those kids on the playground.

Want to read more about guardrails and setting boundaries? Have a read of this blog that explores boundaries and stress.

Darren Kanthal

Darren Kanthal, Founder of The Kanthal Group, is a values-driven leadership and career coach with over 20 years of experience in HR and Talent Acquisition. Darren is intensely passionate about helping mid-career leaders cut through the BS, do the foundational work, and achieve their greatness.


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