How Close Is Too Close?

How close should you be to those you lead? Last month’s O magazine included an article by Suzy Welch, titled “When Good Women Make Bad Bosses.” Welch suggests that women sometimes err on the side of being either the “Ice Queen,” too distant from those they lead, or the “Good Mother,” too close. But the issues Welch raises are relevant for both men and women, especially in ministry and other helping professions. Welch says, “The remedy lies in striking the right intimacy balance-close enough to know your people, distant enough to lead them.”

How close do we need to be? Here are some tips for finding the right distance: 1) Keep your goals in mind as you relate to staff. You are first and foremost their leader, not their friend. 2) Be able to say both “no” and “yes” to requests from staff. Be sure both options are in your repertoire, and consider #1, your goals, as you decide. 3) Spend time with key staff regularly. While friendship is not the goal, developing relationships is essential to your leadership. Remembering both goals and relationships will help us as we supervise individuals and lead the entire group. Read my whole newsletter article here.

What do you think?

2 replies on “How Close Is Too Close?

  • IGalindo

    In a recent presentation to clergy one of my points was, “Your congregation may not be your church.” While the fact is that we all need community, the paradox about ministry is that more often than not, the congregations that pastors lead may never be their “church.” Clergy occupy a particular and unique place in the congregational system, and the things that church members seek of their church is often not available to clergy, at least, not in the very churches they pastor.

    I think it’s possible to find “church” within your congregation, and I think you can develop intimate personal friendships with congregational members. Often we are blessed with particular church members with enough emotional maturity and sense of “Self” as to not get stuck in issues related to their pastor being their friend and a human being. Certainly it requires all of the factors that make any friendship possible: affinity for each other, predilections for the same things, shared interests and passions, the ability to carve out and spend time together (propinquity), etc. But issues related to the pastor’s position in the system often means that a pastor will never experience his or her own congregation as “church” (often that extends to the pastor’s family as well).

    Issues such as tenure, a disparity in the stages of faith of the pastor and the majority of the church members, a clash of culture (educational, socio-economic, social, ethnic), or a difference in spirituality styles can often result in enough differences that preclude the pastors from finding “church” in their own congregations. Or, as framed by Margaret, from getting “too close.” All the more reason we repeat often to clergy that they need to “find a support group” for their well being. A group that can be “church” and in which friendships can develop beyond the shared professional guild that brings them together. It’s not for nothing that we often say that leadership is a lonely place. But I also suspect that will be true to the extent one allows it.

  • kit ketcham

    Hi, Margaret,
    This issue is something I deal with a lot, as a woman minister in a small rural community. I am aware that I must be both approachable AND authoritative, with my own set of friends, but it can be tricky to pull off. I occasionally socialize with parishioners but I always go knowing I am “on”, not just their pal, even though my manner is friendly and casual. I am careful to limit myself to one glass of wine or one beer, knowing that two is too many. I dress a little more “up” than others, I am willing to talk church but I tot up the time, so that I don’t go over my parttime hours. In a small community, often my parishioners are my closest associates, so that it takes effort to find other friends I enjoy. But I’ve been managing and certainly do love living here!


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