Just Say It #4: My Employee, My Friend!

by Tim Sackett | Posted | Leadership

Just Say It #4: My Employee, My Friend!

Welcome to the "Just Say It" blog series! This series is designed to provide real-world situations we all face as leaders, and how I believe you should deal with them. Take a look at my previous articles here:

Just Say It: Performance Conversations with Defensive Employees
Just Say It #2: The Problem with Employee Self-Appraisals
Just Say It! #3: We Don't Hire to Fire!

Like many of you, I came up the management ranks during a time when the executives I reported to did not think it was appropriate to 'be friends' with people you manage. Their philosophy was simple: If you need to fire someone for bad performance or anything else, it's really going to be tough if they're your friend.

Also, there was a belief that if you were friends with those you supervised, you would give preferential treatment or that the employee would take advantage of your relationship to get away with stuff, like showing up late, leaving early, missing deadlines - and so on.

Welcome to the friend-zone

So what's the alternative - avoid friendships with employees altogether? That's not how a normal person acts. A normal person builds relationships with those they work with. A normal person probably becomes friends with those they work with. If you're a good leader in today's work world, you probably do much more 'work with' than 'supervise' those on your team.

Most of us lead teams where we all work together to 'make the donuts' and get projects done on time. When you're leading this type of a team, friendships are going to happen. Once you're in the friend-zone as a boss, well, things can get tricky.

So, what do you do? How do you work as an effective modern manager who can lead a team to great performance, but still be friends after work?

Guidelines for having friendships with employees

First, you need to understand up front this could potentially end really badly. You don't need to verbalize this, or share it with those you supervise. You just need to know, at some point, this could get awkward. It's sort of like dating a co-worker. It's great until it's awful. There's no in-between! Being a boss and a friend can work until it doesn't.

Second, if you truly want to be the friendly boss, you need to manage as much as you can with black and white metrics and data. Define up front, by the numbers, what success looks like, then hold those accountable to that definition. It's easy to be friends with those you supervise when everyone is meeting their goals.

Lastly, know that there's always a line you never want to cross. I have a ton of friends in my life. And to be honest, I don't want these people to see me really cut loose! I'll save that person for only a few close friends (and hopefully not even them). You never want to share your worst self with anyone you also have to supervise. So, you can be "friends", you just can't be "let me hold your hair back as I get sick from drinking too much" friends!

It's about finding the right balance

Old school executives will tell you becoming friends at work is just not worth it. They'll say, "You can never be friends with those you supervise".

New school leaders will tell you that the right mix of accountability, servant leadership and friendship will lead to great performance and great balance in your life. The new school way of thinking is something along these lines, "Building a strong friendly relationship with those you supervise is the key to great performance."

A good, strong relationship between managers and employees is like any relationship, including one between friends - it's about balance. There are times when your friend just needs you to listen, there are other times when they need your advice or a shoulder to lean on, and there are times when they need you to tell it like it is.

It's not easy to manage, but nothing ever good is easy.

Your turn: Is it okay to be ‘friends' with the people you manage? Let me know what you think by commenting below!

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