Executive Communication: Why You Can’t Be Friends with Employees

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We all want to be liked, even managers and leaders.

While making friends with as many people as possible is a great way to network, it’s not a good way to lead.

Of course, a friendly and comfortable work environment is important. But resist the temptation to become friends with your subordinates.

When on the job, your employees are not equal to you in the way that your friends are.

When team members feel “equal” to their manager, they are more likely to take liberties and undermine their manager’s authority.

They’ll struggle to imagine how their “friend” would call them out for doing something wrong, or not allow them to bend (or even break) the rules.

This could mean being a little less punctual or leaving work early because they think you won’t mind, or avoiding tasks they don’t really want to do.

If you’re a manager and you find yourself blurring the lines between boss and friend, here are four things you need to keep in mind to reestablish boundaries.

executive communication

Favoritism Creates Conflict

It’s only natural that you’ll get along with some employees better than others.

But as soon as you have a “favorite,” you have conflict.

Other employees will notice the favoritism (even if you think they can’t see it) and see any benefits you give that employee as unfair.

In addition, the employee-as-friend relationship can easily sour.

You’ll feel unable to give accurate performance reviews, and you’ll feel conflicted when you have to call them out on something.

If you have to reduce their hours or assign unenjoyable tasks to them, you’ll not only have a hard time because those are hard things to do, you’ll risk ruining the friendship.

Maintain Balance

It’s important to maintain a balance between friendly and authoritative.

Think of the friend and leader role as two sides of a scale you need to balance.

If you find yourself thinking of an employee as a friend, it’s time to rebalance.

Cut back on after-work drinks, invite different members of the team to social events, and say “no” a little more often.

Remember YOU are the Leader

You never want to make anyone feel small, but you are the leader, and both you and your team need to remember that.

Play a supportive and motivating role, rather than being “one of the team.”

While pulling your team together is a great thing, try to keep yourself a step apart from everyone else.

Don’t Be Hurt When You Aren’t Invited to Social Events

Think about your experience with parties and events when you weren’t the boss. You can probably remember a lot of times where it was weird when the boss was hanging out with everyone.

If you find out your team has been out without you, don’t assume they didn’t invite you because they don’t like you, assume it’s because they see you as their leader.

The Alternative: Build Friendships with Other Managers

If you’re in a large organization, look to other managers and leaders for friendships so you can share challenges and advice freely, without undermining your work relationships.

Building these relationships into your network can be especially beneficial to your future as your friends rise through the ranks in the company.

You can also look externally and make friends with people at other organizations or at client companies.

Successful work relationships require balance.

Your relationships with your team members should balance amiability and professionalism.

Your leadership style should balance clear authority and care for each team member.

You want your team to do well, collectively and individually. And that requires you to maintain the right level of professionalism. 

Justin Aquino