Lisa manages a group of people at a marketing agency. Like Lisa, most of the team is in their mid-30’s. They work long hours together and often go to dinner or drinks after work. Recently, over lunch, an older colleague told Lisa to be careful about making friends with her staff. “Don’t cross the line between being a manager and a friend,” she warned.
Good advice? There was a time when the answer was yes. For decades, it was considered best for managers to keep a personal distance from their employees. The school of thought was that friendship was a slippery slope to favoritism.
Today, however, organizational structures are losing their rigidity. Reporting lines are becoming fluid. Companies are decentralizing authority and moving toward team-based networks. According to a recent study by Deloitte University Press, “only 38% of all companies and 24% of large companies (>50,000 employees) are functionally organized today.”
As reporting lines blur, so do the lines between our professional and personal selves. It’s now considered okay, even healthy, to work with friends. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace poll found that workplace friendships increase employee satisfaction by 50%. Companies like Zappos, Google, and Dropbox encourage employee bonding.
Leadership is no longer about having positional authority. It’s about relationships. Leaders who build strong relationships with their team are in a better position to empathize with the needs of their diverse workforce and to handle the dynamic shifts in business cycles.
This doesn’t mean that you should become BFF’s with your staff. Save the sharing of innermost thoughts and crying-on-the-shoulder for close, lifelong friends. What it does mean, is that your team wants to be able to laugh and commiserate with you – to see you as both a leader and a human.
If you think about it, there are several similarities between being a good friend and a good leader:
- We all want friends and leaders who can hold us accountable without being unkind, and with whom we can be honest.
- We want friends and leaders who genuinely solicit our advice, but who are strong enough to take decisive action.
- We want friends and leaders who we can confide in and trust, without worrying that they will gossip about us with others.
You don’t have to be bossy or distant to be an effective leader. When you apply the principles of being a trusted friend to your leadership role, you’ll find that the line between friendship and leadership becomes invisible.
Question: Do you let your employees see you as human, or are you a never-let-them-see-you-cry manager?
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