Boundary events are transitional periods in our life that move us from one phase of growth or development to the next. Most leaders move from establishing foundations beginning in childhood TO preparation where the leader pursues formal training TO contribution where the leader exercises what they have learned in the laboratory we call work TO a place of multiplication where their experiences have matured and can be leveraged for greater effectiveness within their sphere of influence.
Boundary events are precipitated and initiated by a circumstance, situation, or occasion – not all of which are positive. These events can be instigated by a crisis or transition such as a new opportunity, being fired, a health crisis, being laid off, completion of one’s education, mid-life crisis, promotion, spiritual experience, an epiphany, an awakening, an accumulation of related circumstances, gradual discontent, failure, success, a challenge, significant change, new life stage, or a major change of perspective.
Research has shown that boundary events can last anywhere from 2 or 3 months to as long as 6 years. Regardless of the length of time or how they are brought into play boundary events consist of essentially three stages; entry, evaluation, and exit.
The ENTRY stage is a period of time where a leader reflects on what just happened to him or her. They try to reconcile the events that led up to it in an attempt to understand and connect the dots. This stage looks to the past and is often accompanied by grieving over the loss. The leader may experience anger, disappointment, despair, and discouragement if the precipitating circumstances were unexpected or negative in nature. It is important to remember that this self-analysis will rarely if at all yield all the answers. Eventually, the leader comes to terms with the circumstances even though many questions about the particulars remain unclear. The leader finally comes to a point where they realize, “It is what it is.” If the circumstances leading to the boundary event are perceived as positive (i.e., a promotion, new opportunity, the completion of a journey, etc.) then the reflection of the past is simply a period of encouragement, appreciation, sense of accomplishment or achievement.
The EVALUATION stage actually consists of two periods of activity. The focus of this stage is the present where they take an inward look and may even look upward for spiritual guidance. The first period involves self-evaluation. The leader takes stock of what they have to offer. They assess their capabilities and capacity for the next phase of their journey. They may even seek further assessment through non-formal means such as a coach, taking various instruments, preparing a personal historical timeline, gathering observations of others, attending self-help and self-management workshops or seminars, and/or seeking professional guidance. The objective is to gain clarity of their personal toolkit of gifts, talents, natural abilities, acquired competencies and skills, and lessons learned from their experiences.
Once the self-evaluation is complete and the leader has an accurate grasp of what they have to offer they may determine that there are some holes in their portfolio. They may seek further education, undergo coaching to learn a new competency or skill, seek professional career guidance, or acquire a mentor who can help them fill out their unrealized potential in anticipation of their next big step. This period might also include a personal audit where they determine their life purpose, committed passion, non-negotiables going forward, unique methodologies (their toolbox), and ultimate contribution or legacy they hope to leave. This personal life mandate will serve as a filter through which they will process new opportunities to ensure that they are operating from their ‘sweet spot.’
The EXIT stage of the boundary event looks to the future. The leader is ready to move on and embrace something new and different. They are ready to put past circumstances behind them and engage a new aspect of their journey. They come out of their hunkered down existence ready to tackle the world but with a new commitment, a new focus, a new perspective, a new attitude, a new sense of hope, a new beginning, a new future. They will initiate action to find a new position, start a new business, or embrace a new vocation altogether. They will actively pursue new opportunities in alignment with their wiring and new trajectory. In many cases the transition from evaluation to exit is not dramatic but incremental instead. It may also be true that the leader does not know they have transitioned from the evaluation to the exit stage until after it has already happened. Once they have exited and started afresh the boundary event is concluded.
Some leaders will experience multiple boundary events in their life – a movement to calling, a movement to beingness versus doingness, a movement to legacy or ultimate contribution. Knowing what and how boundary events operate will help the leader deal with the range of emotions they will experience while going through it. Such understanding will mediate confusion and help the leader understand what to expect and how to endure it. Boundary events serve to bring closure to recent experiences, deepen ones beliefs, values and convictions, expand one’s perspectives to see new things, and to make decisions which will launch one into a new phase of their life.
To be continued…