Good question. Can a boss be a friend? Have you been told not to be friends with your employees? If I asked, should a boss help his or her direct reports, would your answer be absolutely? However, isn’t that what true friendship is, helping and supporting one another? Too often managers are advised not to be friends with employees despite countless examples to the contrary not the least of which is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, if you haven’t read his book Delivering Happiness add it to your shortlist. Not only can you be friends with direct reports—you should be. I think people may be confused by their definition of friendship. Let me explain.

Friends Don’t Encourage Negative Thinking

I’ve been advised not to be friends with direct reports because, “You’ll complain about work to each other.” Negativity doesn’t help anyone. Complaining to each other doesn’t help inside or outside of work. There’s no place for complaining about the job or gossiping about other employees in the employee-boss relationship. Offering positive suggestions to improve the workplace—you bet. Indiscriminately griping without offering a solution—not what friends do.

Friends Do More for Friends

I’ve been warned, “Employees will take advantage of your friendship.” Anyone who takes advantage of another isn’t their friend. Friends help each other by learning their needs, wants, and desires. A boss should know what a direct report wants from a job and help them achieve it. When an employee knows the boss has the employees best interest at heart—they’re inclined to give their best. People will go above and beyond to help their friend, even if he or she is the boss. Leader/employee friendships improve performance, reduce turnover, and support a positive work environment.

Friends Are Honest With Each Other

I’ve been told, “It’s hard to hold your friends accountable.” Maybe so, but true friends don’t lie to each other and the boss/friend can’t either. It may not be easy, but as a boss, and friend, you must honestly evaluate performance, give feedback as needed, and hold friends accountable. Don’t confuse being nice with being a friend. A friend will help a friend be a better person and employee.

Friends Know and Observe Boundaries

I’ve heard, “A boss can’t be friends with his team because it’s outside of business boundaries.” What does that even mean? If I was visiting a friend’s family and they disliked cursing—I wouldn’t curse. It’s not much different in the workplace—there are policies to be followed. Harassment in the guise of friendship isn’t friendship, its harassment. Friends respect boundaries.

Should a boss complain to an employee about the job, hide the truth about performance to protect feelings, or ignore boundaries? No, but neither should any friend. Should a boss help their direct reports, learn their challenges and hopes, and be a transparent mentor? Yes, and that’s how I define friendship—people who help each other. Are you a boss, a friend, or both?

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

So, does your business have a management training plan? Because, if not, many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out. It might help you stop putting off what you want to do.

Photo by Christina @ on unsplash