The Ins and Outs of Boundary Setting

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A great way to ward off unnecessary conflict? Setting solid boundaries in your life. Your work life and personal life will thank you! But where do you begin? Jill Perrin, 4word mentor and Executive Coach, shares her hard-earned tips for setting boundaries that make sense for your life.

Tell us a little about yourself!

I’m a wife, mom, friend, executive coach whose faith was formed via Young Life. I attended YL while in Highschool and was a YL Leader while in college. I live in Dallas, Texas, with my French husband of 25 years. We have two adult children – a son working and living in the Bay area and a daughter graduating from Boston College in May. My volunteer efforts include mentoring for 4word and being a reader in the DISD partnering with struggling elementary school readers.

I earned my MBA from Harvard Business School (where I roomed with THE Diane Paddison for two years). I then had a Direct Marketing and Management career in F50 for 17+ years including American Express and GE. I joined a successful start up for 12 years called Business Talent Group. While there I came to really recognize that I love giving people support, training, mentoring and encouragement for them to be able to grow and flourish. I knew that I needed to tap into this in order to find more joy in my professional life. I channeled this ‘Aha’ into Executive Coaching – graduating from the Executive Coaching program with Georgetown University. I now have a private coaching practice.

What should the number one goal of setting up boundaries be? 

The number one goal of setting boundaries is HAVE THEM and KEEP THEM! 

Without boundaries, you will shortchange your faith, yourself, your family, your friends, your work, and your health. It can often be the case that women flex for everyone else in their world and leave no space for themselves to think, pray, exercise, settle into calmness, enjoy life, and grow. Without appropriate personal and professional boundary setting, you’ll run the risk of doing a lot of things not particularly well and become exhausted/resentful/unhealthy along the way.

While setting boundaries does mean saying ‘no’ to asks by and expectations of others, the truth of the matter is it is a critical skill saying ‘yes’ to yourself. Yes—I know what my priorities are! Yes—I can choose how to gift my time!  Yes—I know how to place limits so that my impact where I choose to focus is limitless! Yes—I respect myself enough to guard my time and health! I encourage you to add more affirmations around setting boundaries. “Yes, I _____ !”  “Yes, I _____ !”  “Yes, I _____ !”  

Was there a time in your career where you didn’t have great boundaries?

I had several times in my career where I did not set boundaries well and paid the price for it. I have worked from home remotely for over 15 years in Senior Level roles. I was a trusted leader who always did what I said I would do and delivered results for the company. Thus, my boss gave me great leeway and independence on how I operated, and we checked in only once in awhile.

One summer, both my children were at sleep-away camp for a month, opening up time for me to get a lot of non-work projects done (including rest and self-care). My boss kept sending project work my way – as she should have. One evening I found myself at 7 p.m. and still in my robe (no shower), working at a frenetic pace and becoming furious and frustrated (code for crying!). This was a month where I had some free time mentally booked for non-work projects! 

What went wrong? I did not properly set and communicate my boundaries with my boss. This had NOTHING to do with my boss sending over too much work. It had EVERYTHING to do with me not communicating what I could and could not do and what I was willing to do. I was exhausted, dismayed, and mad—and it was completely my fault. I slipped into this bad situation. My boss did not demand that I ‘go there’ and in fact was surprised I had too much on my plate once I cycled back with her. How could she had known? I had neither communicated this to her nor set appropriate boundaries!

On the flip side, when have you done boundaries well in your career?

I launched an Executive Coaching practice two years ago. Often people think of career coaching and executive coaching as being one and the same. They are NOT! Career coaching focuses on your career trajectory and the next role(s) you are aiming for and how to get them. Executive coaching focuses on the leader you want to be, your growth goals, your values, and how your behaviors and actions should evolve to help you operate as a better leader. 

I was at an event where someone kindly introduced me to a large professional crowd as a local Executive Coach they should seek out. I was swarmed by people wanting to talk about how I could help them (or their graduating seniors) as a career coach. (I can operate as one but I do not want to be one). Remember – I am building a practice as an executive coach. I could have jumped at these leads and had immediate project work, yet work that was not what I wanted to ultimately do. Instead I gave each of these leads the name of another coach that focuses in the domain of career coaching. How did effective boundary-setting play into this? I blocked spending time on career projects that could have delivered income quickly but would have crowded out other activities that would build the Executive Coaching practice I had envisioned. My boundary setting will help me build my business in the long term instead of getting off-track.

What does it look like when boundaries aren’t being honored?

When you fail to honor your boundaries, you are not being the ‘best you’ possible. You are taking your eye off the ball. You are not sticking with priorities. You are spreading yourself too thin. You are setting yourself up for failure. You are not fully present with those you care most about. You are setting the stage for more requests to be made of you. You are inviting overwhelm. You are setting yourself up to operate form a space and place of being mad, frustrated, and worn out. Are you convinced yet? 

As a coach, do you have any go-to tips or tricks for setting up and sticking with boundaries?

First, it starts with macro goal setting. Spend the time to really think through your personal and professional goals. You’ll want to limit this list to 5-7; any more and you are already failing to set boundaries. There are only so many important goals we can attend to at any given time.

Once you have this list, think through five sub-goals and actions you could do to support achieving these macro goals. Be very specific. But don’t stop there. Use this four-block framework to map where each item falls on the grid. Once you’ve done that, take a hard look at what you are going to set aside / strike off the list.

I recommend looking at this grid monthly to assess the ergs of energy you should put against your sub goals. And look at it quarterly at the macro goal level to see if any updates are warranted. This is a living and breathing exercise to do in order to effectively set boundaries, follow those guidelines and free yourself from ‘action item clutter.’

When someone sets up and sticks to their boundaries, what benefits can they expect to experience in their life? 

The myriad benefits of setting up and sticking to effective boundaries include: 

INCREASED joy, effectiveness, pride, calm, strength, presence, satisfaction, productivity, focus, room for growth, health

DECREASED exhaustion, frustration, stress, ineffectiveness, anger, complacency, rote work, negative self-talk

Anything else you’d like to share?

Boundary setting is easier said than done. You need to have done the hard work around goal-setting in order to have clarity around which boundaries to set. And yes, there are trade offs.  You may be faced with some tough decisions. Is this work with all of its demands where I really want to spend my time? Is this relationship affirming and helping me grow? Am I respecting and investing in my health properly? Does what I am doing really matter? 

Jill Perrin’s mission as an Executive Coach is to be an actively engaged partner & guide for Clients as they identify, explore and step into growth activities that will bring them increased self-awareness, growth, success, and satisfaction.

She works with executives who are at a professional inflection point (ex. recently promoted, earmarked for the fast-track, newly overseeing a business unit, start-up leaders, executives in transition/transformation, etc.) & helps them chart a growth path ~ both professional & personal.

As a coach she capitalizes on experience gleaned from her 30+ years 1) as an executive with F100 companies in Marketing and Senior Management roles; 2) in a successful start-up; and, 3) launching her solo practice. Jill is the founder and principal of Unlocked Leadership, an Executive Coaching practice.

Jill holds a Certificate in Coaching from Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership. She is Myers Briggs certified & ACC credentialed via ICF. Her clients include Senior Executives and High Potential Managers in Global For Profit, Not for Profit, and Government Organizations.

She joined the successful startup Business Talent Group (a leader in the On-Demand Talent Market-place) in 2007 as the 5th employee. Over 12+ years she served on the Executive Committee & held leadership roles ranging from SVP, Client Services to SVP, Talent Development, to Chief Talent Advisor. 

Ms. Perrin served for 17+ years as an executive in F100 companies focusing on Brand Management, Direct Marketing, & General Management. She served as President of a $100MM Direct Marketing business with General Electric (6 years). Prior, she held leadership positions at American Express (7 years), General Foods & First City National Bank. 

She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School & an undergraduate degree in Economics from Stanford University. She is Six Sigma certified. 

She serves as an advisor to Reboot Career Accelerators, a national organization which offers a suite of programs to get women current, connected, & confident to return to the workforce or pursue new goals. 

Jill volunteers as a Mentor for women in the workplace with 4word, serves on the Board of Directors for the Harvard Business School Club (Dallas/Ft. Worth), and serves as a 1:1 tutor for children behind grade vis a vis reading skills in the Dallas Public School system.

“My job is to awaken possibility in other people.”

Benjamin Zander, musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra