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How to be the Boss and have Friends

If you don’t have friends at work, you feel alone for half your life. Can bosses be friends with direct reports? How about CEO’s with front-line employees?

It depends on how you define ‘friend’. Social buddies on the same bowling team? Probably. Confidants? No.

Don’t pretend you’re the same. You aren’t.

3 challenges to being friends with employees:

#1. Favoritism.

You can’t be friends with everyone at work. Some will feel left out.

When you promote a friend, others will say you played favorites, even if you didn’t. Success in an organization should be based on merit. But the truth is, it’s also who you know.

You’re more likely to gossip or accidentally break a confidence to a friend.

#2. Feedback.

Some say you’ll go easy on your friends. You won’t give tough feedback.

Friends are honest with each other. But you aren’t always honest with your non-work friends. You ignore some of their frailties or failures because their performance doesn’t impact your organization. You can afford to forebear.

#3. Power gaps.

You have power, position, and authority. There will always be an awareness that you have authority to terminate people.

Some want to be your friend because you control resources and opportunities. Power distorts relationships.

It’s nearly impossible to scale the wall of authority when you don’t have it.

The boss and friends:

  1. It’s easier when you’re close to the same level.
  2. We want someone to care for us like we care for them. But, if you have more power and higher position, it will feel like you give more than they give because you have more to give.
  3. Guiding principle: serve the best interest of others. This includes giving tough feedback and terminations. 
  4. Don’t spill your guts to someone who reports to you.
  5. Realize the difference between work friends and best buddies.

What suggestions do you have regarding a boss making friends with subordinates?

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