Our last two posts on Besties and stuff that’s “work related” got me thinking about a topic that makes me crazy. We talk a lot about the importance of relationships at work. Gallup has made a pile of money off of convincing us that the key to employee engagement is actually having a “best” friend at work. And yet, there’s still a whole lot of people out there who believe that you cannot and should not be friends with the people who you manage.
I’m not sure why this pisses me off as much as it does other than it seems to suggest a few things that irritate me:
- You can’t possibly have objective judgement when it comes to managing someone who you have a friendship with
- Being distant from your employees makes you somehow better equipped to manage them
- Friendship and constructive work relationships can apparently work really well except when there’s a formal reporting relationship involved
I think that if we were friends with more of the people we supervise, we’d do a better job of leading them. In fact, treating your people the way you’d treat a friend might not be a bad model to follow (think about these from both sides of the supervisor/employee relationship).
- We care for our friends so we want to see them succeed.
- We don’t want to see our friends get hurt so we will generally protect them from things that might harm them.
- We will defend our friends on blind faith, even when the evidence doesn’t look good.
- We trust our friends, even when they don’t really deserve it.
- We tell our friends if we think they are about to do something really stupid (at least most of the time).
- We forgive our friends for acting stupidly and doing stupid things.
- We communicate with our friends frequently.
- We help friends celebrate success and we stand beside them in tragedy and failure.
- Friendship goes two ways and it grows over time only if both parties participate.
- Sometimes, our situations change and we need new or different friends. That’s how life goes.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I think companies could do a lot worse than to encourage managers to cultivate close friendships with the people they manage. I’ve not heard too many stories where an abundance of friendship and strong relationships was what sunk a team or a company. So, I’m willing to make the leap that this idea isn’t terribly risky. Maybe I’m being naive.
Where do you come down on this issue?
I have often heard “it’s lonely at the top, as it should be”. But after 15 years of management, that hasn’t been my experience. I think a _good_ manager can be direct and use good judgement even with their “friends”. Anyway, what manager can’t use a friend now and then?