Let me remind you - SLAVE and SERVANT are not the same thing - and it’s important to keep the distinction clear.

A servant is defined as ‘one who helps others’ – now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing (did I get enough emphasis there???) wrong with helping other people. Everyone needs compassion and to be lent a hand from time to time.

What I’m talking about is when you help others to the point that it gets in the way of your other responsibilities. After all, you still have other things to do, too. Then it’s important to step back and look at what’s going on.

A slave is defined as being made directly responsive to something – like a printer is slave to a computer.

Say…you’re a business owner…are you a slave to your phone or interruptions from other people….do you set enough boundaries for yourself?

Of course, business owners don’t have a lock on this ‘exclusive’ club…others have these challenges as well.

If you are naturally a supportive, sweet, caring person, or if your profession is a servant-type one, it’s easy to slide into accepting constant interruptions as a daily part of life (to give you an example, Health Department employees consider themselves public servants; the mission statement of the Health Department states that we are there to preserve, promote and protect …the citizens of the County). I dealt with this, too.

But, I see this in the private sector also. At the end of the day you wonder why you’re so exhausted and haven’t’ accomplished ANYthing! If this is you, you may have fallen in to the role of a slave to your business.

Signs to watch for…

Whether you are in an office position or you have personnel on a jobsite here are some things to what for:

• If you are constantly being interrupted (4-5 times any hour sometimes) by employees asking questions on how to perform fairly routine tasks – usually there are several employees asking questions, and its not necessarily one person making all the interruptions

• You are stressed out, frustrated and pulled in many directions, missing deadlines and obligations to others. You can’t get your work done.

• To the client you are meeting with - it gives the impression that they aren’t valued by you. Other people have busy schedules too and interruptions for you to take care of other business wastes their time. They may also think you have inexperienced people working for you and you need to keep close tabs on them.

This stuff bleeds over into your personal life, too.

Family time keeps getting interrupted by work: your daughter accuses you of really not ‘being there’ to watch her game because you’re on the phone, your wife can’t have a meaningful conversation because the phone’s always ringing and you can’t ignore it ‘just for one second’ (all these are perceptions of value again, just like the meeting with your client).


If you can relate to any of those signs, trust me, you are not alone. We all succumb to them from time to time, and indeed, there are periods when they are warranted. But you don’t want to live your life that way…before you know it discontent has popped up everywhere and you spend your time putting out fires instead of being productive…at work and at home. Here are some ideas:

Empower employees to take more responsibility for the common situations. Train them in the latitude you will give them to make decisions. If someone asks a question they don’t know, tell them to say so, they will find out the answer and get back to the questioner.

• Let your employees know you trust their judgment. That is why you hired them after all. If you have issues with being in control, you may need to work on them. You can’t be the person you need to be if you a tight grip on each of your employees.

• Use the Boy Scout motto – be prepared. If they are working off-site, make sure they know what they’re doing for the day and they have the necessary equipment before they leave the office or shop. Unexpected situations are a given, but if someone routinely is unprepared for the job, that is another area to discuss.

• Brief employees each day on your schedule of known appointments where you will be unavailable. Check on the previous day’s progress to help troubleshoot any problems. Put someone else in charge during your unavailable times (back up personnel is a good thing). And let them know you will be checking with them periodically to see how everything is going.

The Plan

How do you set boundaries after not having them for so long? Everyone will think you’re a jerk or something right? NOT!

Well, okay, if you finally explode in frustration, you might be right. That’s why you want to fix this before every day becomes a big frustration!

If you’re one of the people described above (can’t say no, has a spike in monster-ville persona that blows over quickly but then no one will speak to you) or just in general wants to understand the stressed induced pitfalls that can befall any of us - a great place to start is Positive Personality Profiles by Dr. Robert Rohm. Dr. Rohm is our mentor, and Positive Personality Profiles is his best selling book on understanding why we act the way we do. It’s a great read, and will give you some Aha! moments along the way.

Okay, back to setting boundaries…

Since people have gotten accustom to you having loosely defined boundaries, or none at all it will come as a shock that you now are telling people ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ …at least until everyone gets used to the new routine. Even for you. Breaking old habits are not always easy.

So, here are some suggestions to help with the transition:

• Move people into this slowly at first. Make a phone call before your meeting, check how things are going and remind them that you’re headed into a meeting and will be unavailable for a time.

• If employees routinely perform sloppy work that has to be re-done there will be consequences starting____. And remind them of this every morning if necessary (I’m not talking every day for the rest of their lives!... just through the transition phase).

• Stick to what you say – your unavailability times and any consequences you stated. And DON’T have a consequence without announcing it first. You can’t change the rules as you go and expect a smooth transition.

• Remind them of who’s in charge in your absence.

Gradual change is better than suddenly implementing a new strategy. Everyone will be confused if you make sudden changes, hard feelings can be expected to follow and then you have a bigger mess than before.

Still having trouble?

Another great book is The Balanced Life – Achieving Success in Work and Love by Alan Loy McGinnis. Mr. McGinnis interviewed hundreds of highly successful people to find out their secrets of achievement. Turns out they are balanced more than brilliant.

If you’re still having trouble, consider investing in a coach for yourself. Think of it this way - you’re coaching your employees but who’s coaching you?

The people I know who have a business coach swear by them. I swear by mine. My chiropractor has four - one that specializes in each area he’s focused on.

Now, mind you, coaches don’t have to know your business inside out to be able to coach you. They are there to help you keep things in perspective, help you stay on track with your goals and pinpoint areas that need refining.

Finding a coach is like finding a dentist or doctor or personal trainer. Each one has a different fit. The ones I know will give a free session to let you ‘test drive’ this coaching thing and see if you two are a good fit for each other.

I’ve arranged a free 30 minute coaching session with John Benjamin, The Growth Coach at www.frontrangecoaching.com, for everyone who gets this newsletter. Tell him this crazy…’happy girl’ sent you!

Here’s your homework: take stock of your work and life and answer this question -
Are you balancing work and life adequately?


Author's Bio: 

Pam Smith is the founder of Happy People Enterprises, LLC, a training and consulting company, and works with citizens, industry and business professionals and government agencies to help them improve their communication skills. With 20+ years in regulatory enforcement/compliance work, Pam knows firsthand the value of communicating what you mean.

For free resources to help you understand your communication styles check out www.HappyPeopleEnterprises.com