I grew up on a ranch in eastern Colorado with cattle, horses, a few dogs, and plenty of cats. My best friends were my cow-dog named Louie and my pony, Fireball. The three of us were comrades in the daily adventures of rural life.


We didn’t have many neighbors, and I would often saddle up Fireball and go explore the vast wide open spaces. I didn’t have a map of our property, but it was generally known which pastures were ours and which were our neighbors. I learned early on how to open gates and most importantly how to close them.

One time a fence was down, and our neighbors’ horses had gotten in with ours. A few months later we found out that one of our mares was pregnant. We didn’t have a stallion…however the neighbors did. Apparently a little love connection had taken place.

A long-standing joke with the neighbor ensued about who would own the new foal. Would they own it? Would we own it? Would we sell the young horse and split the money? Thankfully, this didn’t end in a neighbor feud, and that young colt grew to be one of my mom’s favorite horses.

During these early years, and especially as I worked for farmers and ranchers throughout high school and college, I spent a great deal of my time building fence, mending fence, and tracking down animals that weren’t contained by their fences.

During this time of my life, I learned the truth that…

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

Behavioral scientists in the 70’s concluded that the #1 most motivating factor for any employee is to give them clear expectations. Findings showed the #2 most motivating factor is giving them regular feedback. Much has been researched and discovered regarding motivation since the 70’s, but these two factors remain near the top of the list.

Clear expectations and regular feedback are the fences of relationship.

If clear expectations is one of the single most motivating factors for any employee, why don’t leaders just do that? I believe there are 3 main reasons leaders don’t provide clear expectations:

  1. We are tired, lazy, or overwhelmed
  2. We think our team already knows what is expected
  3. We don’t actually have clear expectations to give

When I speak, I often ask people if their job satisfaction would increase if they had clearer expectations. Nearly 100% of all hands go up.

Years ago, researchers watched children play at a newly built school in a quiet suburban area.  After several weeks of watching the kids and tracking their patterns, it was noticed that nearly 80% of them played close to the school—near the back entrance and not all throughout the play area. Eventually a fence was put up around the school yard. Where did the children play? Everywhere! They spread all throughout the playground.

Our natural desire is to want to know our boundaries. We value boundaries. We want to know what our “fences” are and once we know those, we will spread out and use more and more of our territory.

Consider a few of the following tips to get the most from your territory:

Make people better

It’s your job to make each person around you more efficient, productive, and better every day.

Learn the strengths and passions of your team members. Focus on them. Accentuate them. Help each person thrive more and more each day by doing things they are good at and have passion about. When people do what they enjoy, they give more to you and your team.

Take small steps

You don’t have to do it all at once. Pick one area to focus on. What is one thing that you feel would give a team member the most clarity. Provide clarity on that and share your specific expectations.

Determine the game

If your team can not easily answer if they are winning, they may not know the game they are playing. As a team, determine what a win would look like every day. Be clear about your game and the game plan and provide a way to know daily how they are doing. Every week ask members individually, are you winning? Are we winning as a team?

Watch others who do this well and steal from them

One of my favorite strategies to success is to surround myself with people who have patterns of success in areas that I do not. I watch them. I learn from them. I ask them questions.

Get a score board

I can’t imagine watching a basketball game that doesn’t have a scoreboard and referees. Create ways to measure progress, track goals, and get input so you can make corrections along the way. Being self-governed and calling your own fouls may work playing pick-up basketball but rarely works on teams and within organizations.  Sometimes we need a referee or someone that can objectively track progress.

If good fences make good neighbors, it is your responsibility to build strong fences and to maintain them well.

Next up, I will be discussing the power of boundaries and how you can use boundaries to help you to succeed rather than keeping you from succeeding.