Welcome to this week’s Ask Katrina. The question for today is:
“Katrina, how do I create the proper professional distance between me and my direct reports, my peers, and/or even senior leadership above me?“
First, let’s define what professional distance actually is.
Many times we call our actions “professional distance” when it’s a full fledged protective wall.
Second, we need to allow ourselves to hold space in our lives for that professional distance. There is nothing wrong with creating a level of professional distance to have space between our personal and professional lives. I actually encourage that space. But we need to know when it’s distance vs. a wall.
I personally had a level of professional distance in my career, almost to the point of a wall. Not because I didn’t like people or I didn’t want to make relationships or friendships. For me, it was because I had a lot of impostor syndrome out of the gate.
I used to wake up in the morning saying, “God, please do not let today be the day that they figure out I’m not as good as they think I am.”
Because I was worried about people seeing through what I felt I didn’t know or couldn’t do, I didn’t want people to get too close.
Professional Distance vs. an Emotional Wall
I kept people away, I kept some distance, I kept them at arm’s length. I was still obviously very professional. I carried myself appropriately. But I didn’t talk a lot about my personal life, and I didn’t let people in.
There’s a difference between that level of distance, versus a level of appropriate professionalism, where you build rapport, you build trust, and you build relationships, but you’re not sharing everything that has happened in your life.
We all know people we have worked with who share every part of everything that has ever happened to them.
There’s no filter. While you can appreciate the fact there’s no filter, because they’re just being honest, what I don’t think they understand is that they’re damaging their brand.
They’re not using very good judgment in sharing everything all of the time.
Look, we all make mistakes and we’re all human. But please know that there is a time and a place to acknowledge our humanity and share our mistakes and failures.
Conversely, there’s also a time and a place where we have to garner respect and drive the business forward through our ability to influence and communicate within our professional relationships.
If all we’re doing is talking about our failures and missteps and how we’re not where we need to be, we’re going to lose the trust of those individuals.
Again, there is a difference between professional distance or a wall because of fear, and having professional distance to ensure you’re not damaging the relationships you’re actually building.
The first option doesn’t encourage relationships, it just protects you and insulates you.
The second option 100% encourages professional relationships and transparency.
And yes, you’ll talk about failures when it comes to business or your career because that makes us human.
Sharing those actions at the appropriate level allows your team and your peers and those around you to learn so they don’t make the same mistakes. We’re teaching but we’re not sharing the personal human side of everything that’s happened to us in our lives.
We strike a balance. That’s what professional distance is, a balance.
The key is to understand the difference.
You do not want that professional “wall up” distance because people aren’t going to follow you.
You’re not going to be able to influence and as an executive and this is a requirement as an executive because relationships are key at that level.
The way that you create a proper boundary and you create that professional distance is this. You ask yourself, “If I heard this from a peer or a direct report, would it influence the level of trust that I have in them, would it change the way that I view them?”
Would hearing the information damage their professional brand or their executive brand?
When I would ask myself that question, what I found myself consistently sharing were things that I felt very comfortable talking about; how my kids were doing, their sporting events or musicals, whatever events were happening with my family, and I would talk about those things.
I wouldn’t talk about date night or fights or relationship issues or anything personal to that level.
I drew a line. I knew what was comfortable and that I would share and what I wouldn’t. Again, that’s distance, but it’s appropriate professional distance, while still allowing those individuals to have a glimpse into my life and know me and connect with me as a human.
That’s the balance you want to create.
If you want support creating that professional distance, breaking down emotional walls, and creating your high-performance executive brand, schedule a call with the Legend Leaders team now.