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The Champion Forum Podcast

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Thank you for listening to the Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! Creating meaningful relationships in the workplace is key to increasing trust, communication, and effectiveness. However, some leaders take this too far and start becoming friends with their employees. Many leaders wrongly believe that it will make leadership easier. Despite their best intentions, that is simply not the case. In today’s podcast, Jeff will discuss how a leader needs to strike the delicate balance between being friendly and being friends with their employees.

The first thing you have to understand is that the expectations of a friend are much different than those of a boss.

You would expect a friend to protect you and your family by not firing you from your job. A friend would understand if you were having personal challenges and cut you some slack. And a great friend would be happy to promote you, even if you are not the most qualified person for the job.

You cross the line when someone on your team expects to be treated differently or held to a different standard than the rest. This creates a division within the team and undermines your credibility as a leader.

Q: How do you define friendship? Have you ever been friends with a boss? Have you ever been friends with your employee? What challenges did you face? How did the relationship end?

Areas that are difficult to navigate when you are friends with your direct report:

Accountability: It’s tough to play video games or golf with someone all weekend and then discipline them on Monday for missing their quarterly goals.

Giving Feedback: No one wants to give negative feedback to their friends, especially when it could impact their earning potential or future promotion.

Favoritism: If you are friends with some team members outside of work, the other team members you did not include will judge every decision you make that benefits that employee as potentially unfair.

Support: When you believe you have a true friendship with your direct reports, you expect unconditional support. However, my experience shows me that when employees don’t like your business decision, they will find it difficult to support you.

Q: Have you ever dealt with favoritism at work? How did you identify it? How did the team respond? How was the situation resolved? What do you think could have been done differently? How do you feel as an employee when you have to give negative feedback to your boss? How is that feeling complicated by feeling like you are friends?

A genuine friendship endures when the position doesn’t.

The Solution?

Be friendly and caring. Showing genuine interest in your team members will help you understand them better and create a relationship built on trust. The key to ensuring you are not crossing over into being friends is to establish firm boundaries from the start and avoid investing in frequent activities with your employees outside of work.

Q: What kind of activities do you like to do outside of work. Could you see yourself inviting a coworker or boss to go along with you? Why or why not? What boundaries would you set if you did?

Application Activities:

  1. Assess your current relationship with your employees. First, determine if you have any relationships that have gone too far. Are you selectively listening to one employee more than the rest? Do you feel more uncomfortable giving one employee direction than the rest? These are good indicators that you may have to draw new boundaries. Next, evaluate whether you are being friendly with your team. Brainstorm a list of 10 things you know about each employee outside of work. Consider things like if they are married, where they are going on vacation next, and what their long-term goals are.

  2. What are healthy boundaries? Take some time to establish boundaries for yourself and your team members. Then if you do interact outside of work, everyone knows what to expect. For example, your boundaries might include not talking about compensation, office gossip, promotions, or office projects outside of work. You may also set boundaries like that you’ll participate in group activities with other coworkers, but not one-on-one. Whatever you choose, make your expectations clear and stick to them regardless of who is asking.

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