REALity Question: Can we all just be friends?

Today’s blog post is a continuation of our REALity Questions series. The purpose of this series is to give leaders the opportunity to discuss real, practical challenges that arise in the workplace.

The “right” answer to today’s REALity Question is a hotly debated one in many workplaces and one that I get asked quite often.

As a leader, is it ok to be friends with the people I lead?

First, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being friends with your teammates. Now, it needs to be a respectful kind of friendship that won’t take advantage of the situation. If your “friend” expects favors, or if your “friend” gets favors that other subordinates don’t, then you’ve compromised your leadership.

Here’s how I see it: My number one responsibility is to steward the company. There are many sacrifices that come with leading, but losing your friends doesn’t have to be one of them.  Hopefully the friendship is founded on mutual respect and support so that your character doesn’t become damaged or questioned.

Hiring family members is no different. When Keven (my husband and business partner) and I owned our staffing business, we hired his brother Mike to be a manager. Because we didn’t want our team to think Mike was going to get special “family” privileges, we were intentionally very hard on him. He got the grunt jobs, he was paid less, and he was even fined once or twice for breakdowns he was responsible for. While this is not something I would suggest you do, it was something that earned Mike a lot of respect with the rest of the team. They saw that he got no special favors based on his relationship with the bosses. Mike was seen as the leader, not as the brother-in-law. He earned his right to lead the team. Today, Mike is the owner of that business.

I believe that if we had given Mike special “friends and family” benefits, he would not have developed his career with the toughness needed to run a business, and he would not have earned the team’s respect needed to lead once he took the reins.

This same philosophy should be applied to our working friendships. We cannot give special treatment to our friends. Doing so makes your leadership so much more difficult, and it hinders your friend’s development.

What do you think?  Am I off my rocker? Do you have friends at the office who you lead? Have you ever had to compromise because of it?

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