Famous Author of “Boundaries” Dr. Henry Cloud
The Freedom of Boundaries: Dr. Henry Cloud
Written by Henry Ortlip
Just as each year has seasons, so does life. There is a time to reap, a time to sow, a time to flourish, a time to grow, and while you may be inclined to think of the 1965 Byrds’ song, or the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud backs up the transitional times most often recognized, in his Boundaries’ books which have sold over five million copies. His simplified approach involves all aspects of life from business, to family, and even spirituality. Risen had the privilege to chat with Cloud and hear his perspective on Christian culture, recognizing these seasons, and the discussion of why very few leaders finish well.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in Southern California
Risen Magazine: What was your experience growing up?
Dr. Henry Cloud: I grew up in the south. I had a big emphasis on sports growing up. I went to college to play golf, but I got an injury and had to quit. So it was in college that I made a deeper faith commitment. I was doing a lot of searching.
Risen Magazine: As culture in America is changing rapidly, what changes within Christian culture need to be made to stay connected and relevant?
Dr. Henry Cloud: In the Christian culture I think what you see sometimes is a reactive stance against the culture. In some way it becomes a little more separatist and irrelevant to the conversation. On the flip side of that I think a lot of times you have such an adaptation to the culture that it blurs the lines of what it means to live out faith in this culture. Sometimes you can’t really tell the difference. You know it’s similar to when Paul said, “To the Jew, I became a Jew, and to the Greek, I became a Greek.” The adaptations we need to make as Christians are to make the main things, the main things, and not fight a lot of battles that are really irrelevant. Another aspect is that sometimes you see an unfortunate divide between the emerging church and the age group that’s adopted what living in a future world is like, and what living in a virtual community is like, and all of that. [The emerging church puts] an emphasis on community, sometimes more than doctrine, and the [traditional] church kind of gets into a conflict about that based on what is the emphasis and tries to straighten them out. I think both groups have a lot to learn from each other. I think that part of creating the Christian culture is a big important aspect. Sort of like the last verse in the Old Testament, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the hearts of the children and the hearts of the children to the hearts of the fathers.” [Malachi 4:6] I think we can see that type of generational learning happen.
Risen Magazine: One of the themes you mentioned is the importance of leaders recognizing seasons in life. Looking back, what season has been the most challenging for you?
Dr. Henry Cloud: I think one of the biggest seasonal challenges that I had to learn is that you can have a calling, a mission, and a passion and yet the season of the way you were doing that has ended and you have to adapt those talents and gifts and callings and passions to a new way of doing them. So the challenge is to maintain what you’re about, but realize that the form in which you were doing it has ended and you have to adapt to adopt a new one. For example, I was a clinician and in the early years and I built a chain of Christian psychiatric hospital units and treatment centers. I was going to live out my mission in the context of the health care system and bring healing and Christian values to psychiatry and physiological treatment. I thought that was what I would be doing for the rest of my life. And what happened was that with the changes in the health care system, I had to realize that my calling was not just to hospitals, but my calling is about taking God’s ways of getting better and getting well and performing, into other contexts. I had to adapt to taking all of those principles into the church community, into the marketplace, into companies, and organizations. I think that happens to all of us, we have a basic path, but its like Proverbs [16:9] says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” So I think that is one of the big challenges, to be continuously finding the form that our mission takes. Some people lose there mission because the form goes away.
Defining and clarifying boundaries really helps you get closer in good relationships.
Risen Magazine: What seasonal changes do you see in your own life moving forward?
Dr. Henry Cloud: The last 10 or 15 years have been predominately spent working with leaders in organizations, CEO’s, and executive teams in companies, etc. I have done a lot of work in the field of leadership. I think the next season is really about taking those principles and content and doing more training and teaching and distribution of those models of content that have been developed during those years. I was a practitioner in the clinical world for a long time and developed a lot of models and paradigms, and the next season was about getting those messages out in a variety of forms – media television, radio, speaking, etc., – and I think it’s a similar path in the field of leadership. The next season is more about delivery of those principles. From practitioner to content developer, to teacher-type cycle. I’ve had several leadership books published in the last eight years, starting with Integrity, and Necessary Endings to now having Boundaries for Leaders. So the next season really is talking about those books.
Risen Magazine: With a lot of your books centering on building boundaries, what has been the most rewarding boundary you’ve set in place within your own life?
Dr. Henry Cloud: Can I say “bow-wounderies?!” [Laughter] Because it’s the boundaries I use in training my dogs. We kid about that a lot because I’m training a bunch of big dogs – German Shepherds, a Rottweiler, and a Doberman – so we talk about how the most rewarding boundaries are the bow-wounderies.
[Seriously,] I think that there would be two sections; if you think of life being love and work. They have been the boundaries in the relational side of life over the years to help me get closer to people. Defining and clarifying boundaries really helps you get closer in good relationships. I think that has been a very helpful path over the years. And on the work side, I think to clarify the boundaries of what I’m supposed to do and what I’m not supposed to do has been very, very helpful.
Risen Magazine: People define success in different ways. You have acquired a Ph.D., multiple bestselling books, and you are a well-known speaker. What do you think has been your most successful endeavor?
Dr. Henry Cloud: When I think of the word success, I think of it as basically in our relationship with God. If you go to Micah 6:8 it says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord requires of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” I think that at the end of my life if I can continue on that path, and each day try and become a little merciful and execute fairness and justice wherever I can and continually find my place in relationship to God… to me that is success. It includes love and the work and the spiritual part of it. And I would define my greatest success as when I came to faith in college; I was just a mess and through a relationship with God, now I’m functional…[Laughing]… and have some degree of fruitfulness. [More laughter.] So I think the concept of success is like a saying I’ve heard along the lines of, “If life is about God doing things through us, then success is basically continuing to trust and to abide.” So with all the ups and downs if we can focus on whatever success is going to be, it’s got to come out of abiding and continuing on the path of faith. And, so far so good. I’m just trying to hold on to God as best I can and do the next thing he wants me to do.
Risen Magazine: What is one life changing experience you had to go through in order to be where you are?
Dr. Henry Cloud: I think the biggest life changing experience I had to go through was to realize that there is no such thing as self-made or self-help. That I had to learn we draw life, we draw ability, we draw strength, and we draw competencies and sustenance and everything we have, we draw it from outside of ourselves. So learning to submit myself to a community that could help me grow over the years, other than submitting myself to God, has by far been the most powerful thing that I have ever learned. Ultimately, if you’re not God, then you draw everything about life from outside of yourself. I think that people who try to be self-directed, self-motivated, and self-made, are just relying a lot on themselves, they leave a lot on the table because life is drawn from a body outside of ourselves.
Risen Magazine: It seems easier for one to figure out boundaries that need to be set, rather than to implement boundaries in one’s life. What advice could you give someone in order to have the courage to follow through?
Dr. Henry Cloud: Even though it might be easier to figure out, than to follow through, I would add that for some people it’s not very easy to figure them out. They have to actually be taught that they are responsible for other peoples’ behavior, and feelings, and attitudes, and they are always trying not to show care, but to do caretaking – which never works and leads to enabling. So while it might be easier, it’s not always assumed. The first step is to help somebody clarify what they are responsible for in a relationship and what they’re not. But you’re right where that’s actually a lot easier than stepping out the door, picking up the phone and doing it.
Watch the path of boundary growth, like in significant relationships. Take someone whose married to an addict, or has a kid that’s an addict. They continually try to help them and bail them out and such. When the first step that the individual needs to learn is that they aren’t helping the other person. They have to figure out in the beginning someone’s got to tell them, “I know your trying to help here, but this is a continuing problem and it’s not helping.” So that clarifying step is a very, very important one. In those relationships, it is extremely rare for people that have not been able to set boundaries before to all of a sudden have some switch that goes off where they now find the ability to set a boundary. You just don’t see that. Generally, what you see is exactly what the Bible says, that they have to be strengthened, and encouraged, and supported, and held accountable, by a community around them to keep them from going back into their enabling boundary-less life. That’s why a big emphasis of my work, is to help communities, churches, families, and friends, to basically get in a small group where people are helping each other and supporting each other in establishing boundaries. Ultimately a lack of boundaries comes from fear or dependency. If someone is afraid, they are going to move away from what they need to do, because its too scary, or they are dependent on the person that they’re needing to set boundaries with. That is where the word “co-dependent” came from. So they’ve got to take care of those two things: they have to resolve their dependency by depending on other people, and they have to resolve their fear by being encouraged. There is also a lot of skill development. Some people don’t know how to have a good confrontation with somebody. They [only] know how to avoid it, or scream, and neither one of those help.
I think the biggest life changing experience I had to go through was to realize that there is no such thing as self-made or self-help.
Risen Magazine: Oftentimes so many leaders start well, and in the later stages finish poorly. Why is it so challenging for leaders to finish well?
Dr. Henry Cloud: It’s a great question and I think there are a couple reasons for it. One is, that many times when leaders are starting well, and doing well, their strengths and their gifts, and their talents and their charisma… these traits are creating the huge following in some form of passion – whatever that is like ministry, church, or business. All the while when they are depending on those strengths and gifts sometimes that can enable them to ignore some glaring weaknesses in their personal makeup. Ultimately the weight of all of that begins to demand from them a lot of relational capacities, and a lot of coping capacities, and a lot of internal strengths and abilities that they have been ignoring. Sometimes they have been ignoring pain they have never faced, sometimes they are ignoring other emotional issues or relationship issues. They try to ride their success to the exclusion of the growth that is necessary to sustain that success. So then it blows up.
Another part to why people don’t finish well is many times when people are building things, there is so much of their identity tied up in what they are doing. When it’s time to go to the next season, or sometimes to let go of that, and work on a legacy and succession, they don’t transition. They get a little bit of founder-itis and turn into a little bit of control freaks and stay in the past. They aren’t doing the morphing and the growth that is necessary for doing the next thing.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Summer 2013