A leader should not have friends at work. That nugget of supposed wisdom was offered to me early in my leadership career. It was proffered by someone, who at the time, I greatly admired and whom I was determined to emulate. Unfortunately, it was terrible advice. Sadly, I spent the next few years attempting to follow it by holding myself distant. I closely self-monitored my actions to ensure that they were appropriate and leader-like. In the end, I found myself being ineffective and feeling frustrated and lonely.
A leader should not have friends at work.
During this time, I worked along side a peer who by the “make no friends” standard was an abject failure. Yet, his team was performing at a high level, the higher-ups loved him and he seemed to be genuinely happy. Some of the team members were his friends and others weren’t. However, he treated everyone the same. He was who he was. He did not put up a front. Those friends who spent time with him outside of the office saw the same person they knew in the office. He was imperfect, at times slightly inappropriate, but highly effective and respected. He had it right, and the advice I had been following was wrong. By the way, twenty years later, I count him among my most cherished friends.
Those friends who spent time with him outside of the office saw no difference in the person they knew in the office.
I have come to believe that there is nothing wrong with a leader having friends at work. In truth, a leader who leads from a place of honesty, authenticity and empathy, can’t really avoid making friends along the way. A key to being an effective leader is being able to make meaningful connections with those you lead. At times that connection blossoms into a friendship, and at other times it does not.
A leader who leads from a place of honesty, authenticity and empathy, can’t really avoid making friends along the way.
The danger is not in the development of friendships. Rather, it is the behaviors that can emanate from those relationships. There is little doubt that left unchecked, a leader can exhibit favoritism or develop a double standard for those with whom she is friendly. The fault, however, is not in the existence of the friendship. It is of leaders not holding themselves to a standard of treating everyone fairly and equitably. They must recognize that we all want the same things, to be heard, cared for, valued and respected. As I have written many times before, this is foundational to being an Integrative Leader.
The fault, however, is not in the existence of the friendship. It is of that leaders not holding themselves to a standard of treating everyone fairly and equitably.
I recently attended three different companies’ annual retreats/outings. Each of these companies is rapidly growing, has a great vibe and culture, and is filled with truly committed and energized employees. At the center of all three are leaders who absolutely do not follow the “no-friend” standard. They have all fostered true connections with those they lead. There is some disfunction, not unlike that which might be present in a tightly knit family. Most importantly, however, there is an obvious and mutual level of respect, admiration and trust. These are companies who are made up of a group of people who want to do the right thing, do it well and have fun doing it. If a friendship is created along the way, all the better. Please, don’t follow the “no-friend” standard. Go connect with others by being true to yourself and to those you lead. The rest will take care of itself. We spend a vast majority of our waking hours at work. To avoid the closeness of the true friendships that may develop will only limit your ability to experience life at its fullest. So, here is to good friends. May they be plentiful!
To avoid the closeness of the true friendships that may develop will only limit your ability to experience life at its fullest.
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