As a leader, you can be friendly with your team but you can’t be friends. This is one of the hardest transitions to make as you move into a leadership role. In the early part of your career, you’re “one of the guys” and that works when you’re a member of a team. But you can’t be one of the guys once you are responsible for leading people.
First off, it’s awkward. You’re no longer “one of the guys” and acting as though you are will only make people uncomfortable. One of the guys can’t fire you or request that the project sponsor have you removed from the team. Luckily, your best people probably don’t want you to be their friend – at least not while they work for you. Strong teams want strong leaders – not best buddies. A strong leader focuses on making smart decisions on the team’s behalf and not on making friends. Unfortunately, your weaker players probably do want a best buddy, assuming that “friends won’t fire friends.”
Not being friends doesn’t mean you have to be a cold, calculating automaton. Leadership is about influence, which is earned by everything you do, say or write. Being friendly is a leadership style and while it doesn’t mean kissing up to your team, it does mean being a decent human being and maintaining a positive, open attitude. It’s easier to earn influence if you’re friendly and approachable.
Being friendly is a good way to put your team at ease and to foster open and regular communication – the lifeblood of any good functioning team. This also sets a positive example for your team on how to relate to other people. A team that regularly earns influence within an organization will strengthen their ability to execute and get things done. This is a key cultural goal for any leader in building an effective team.
Being friends with people on your team gives the appearance of favoritism and may alienate some of your more effective resources. Instead, seek to earn your team’s respect by setting a good example and by being friendly and open to their ideas. You’ll be surprised how forgoing friendship while working with your team will often result in true friendships after your professional relationship has changed….and I’m speaking from personal experience.
© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese