Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE
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Leadership, Executive Presence & Career Coach

As an executive coach and corporate CEO, I see how personal boundaries sustain success and how a lack of boundaries inhibits success. A boundary in your personal life is an invisible line between what you will and will not allow. 

Only you can draw your boundaries. Doing so gives you power. If you don’t set your own boundaries, other people won’t know your limits. Situations can spiral out of control, leaving you feeling underappreciated, exhausted and victimized.  

Healthy boundaries are important because they help us preserve important aspects of our lives – personal space, self-worth, mastery, time, relationships and money. When you set healthy boundaries, you indicate your priorities to others and let them know what should be respected. Here are six questions successful women ask themselves when setting boundaries.

1. What do I hold sacred? 

If you don’t intentionally determine what you value, others won’t know how to behave accordingly. Respected values are non-negotiable. You preserve them no matter what. Examples of this might include dedicated time for people you care about or time with family members. It might be an hour each evening to paint, create

or for career exploration. It might be self-respect, physical activity or reading. Whatever you hold dear, write it down and revisit the list each day to self-evaluate your efficacy at preserving it. Then be clear with people around you. You can phrase this like, “I would enjoy getting a drink with you after work, but I spend evenings with my family before the girls go to bed.” 

2. Is this mine to own?

If you notice that you like to please people a lot, you might also find that you often feel let down with unmet expectations. The more you say “yes” to people shifting work that isn’t yours your way, the more you need to draw boundaries. A good barometer is to judge any new task alongside the goals you are measured against. “I agree that this is a priority. I’m accountable for (X) and this task doesn’t align with that. I’m not likely the right person to take this on efficiently or at this time.” Ask yourself, “If I take this on, what should I stop doing to make time for this?”   

3. Can I give myself ten seconds?

Viktor Frankl, a Jewish Austrian neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor of four concentration camps said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” If we feel under siege, either by a person or situation, we feel victimized. Finding space between the fight-flight-freeze reaction and a more rational response begins with a slow deep breath. Count to ten before you do anything. This allows a clearing to separate the assumptions (like, I am being judged, I’m failing, I’m being dismissed) from the truth (she is afraid of failing too. I’m safe here. Getting emotional or staying quiet serves no purpose).

4. Do I need to be right more than I need to get it right? 

The human ego has preserved us from extinction for centuries by elevating our awareness of imminent danger. We are great at sensing a state of threat. Sometimes we over-project that. When threatened, our ego needs to be affirmed that we are safe. Fast forward to the modern workplace where mastodons are not walking the halls. Think of the person at a meeting who speaks just to be heard, or the one who irrationally argues a point that doesn’t make sense. Self-management becomes self-mastery when the goal is getting it right – not being right. 

5. Is it better to walk away?

You can’t reach collaboration with stubborn, angry or manipulative people. Sometimes you must walk away and let the emotions cool. Sometimes that means saying, “I am not prepared to answer this right now. I will get back to you before the end of the day.” “Let’s take some time to re-evaluate this and regroup tomorrow at 10:00 am.” Be aware of the manipulator. Manipulative people control their victims by twisting and denying their sense of reality. When someone undermines your perception of reality, it is called gaslighting. It sounds like: “That didn’t happen.” “You caused me to get angry.” When someone is gaslighting you, you often second-guess yourself, your memories and your perceptions. Walk away and maintain your boundaries. 

6. Is done better than perfect?

Perfectionism kills careers and happiness. The more detached we feel from our valued relationships – including those with our colleagues – the more we overwork documents, presentations, pitches, projects and plans. You tell yourself, “If I just get this a little better it will work out.” Not so. Ask yourself if the item in question meets your stated goals from before you started the project. If so, launch.  

Be intentional in setting boundaries to protect and take good care of yourself. 

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This article was written by a Fairygodboss contributor. 

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an ICF certified executive and career coach, and 19-year corporate CEO. She helps leaders build influence, emotional intelligence, and executive presence so they can have more effective careers, happier lives, and better relationships while it still matters. For more executive presence tips, here's a link to her new FREE eBook - 31 Executive Presence Practices for Leaders.

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