Buddy or Boss?

Occasionally in a new batch of officers, that dilemma is brought up.  "How can I be that officer I always looked up to, yet not alienate my friends?"  Well, here's the down and dirty; It can never be the same again.  A friendship is built upon a foundation of equality and trust.  And depending on the level of leadership you happen to be in, there are differences between the leader and the follower that transcend the ability to appreciate strategic vs. tactical decision making.  On a day to day basis, this relationship may not be an issue.  In the long run, however, I can guarantee you that you will be required to make a decision in the best interest of the whole that isn't going to sit well with a particular outlook, and that friendship will undergo some serious challenges.  

 I have heard all the arguments.  While you may be saying, "I'm currently friends with my supervisor and everything is fine", my response is that if this is the case, you are doing well.  Many bosses say they can remain objective, and fail miserably.  If your "friend/boss" would still call you in the office and read you the riot act just like he or she would to anyone else when you deserve it, then perhaps you are onto something.  And if you have that kind of relationship with your officer, I think it is great.  But it's like I have alluded to in a number of posts, these three simple rules of supervisor/subordinate relations must come to bear:

  1. I am your boss.
  2. If we can maintain that relationship and we can both be objective when it comes time to be, great, I'll be your friend too.  
  3. If not, see Rule 1.

If you are the informal leader of a group and suddenly, you are the boss, it is going to put an amazing strain on your relationships with these individuals unless you are willing to stand back from the emotion and do your job.  

Let's go back to a little comparison and contrast.  Think about being a parent of young children.  You can be a parent and make the occasionally tough decisions that leave your children angry with you and while it hurts, you know you are doing the right thing.  But you can't be their friend and do that: friends are equals, contemporaries, peers.  If you were to approach a sticky issue with your child as a friend, do you really believe for a second that they will respect your authority?  

If you are a truly enlightened leader, the whole point in having authority is to use it to lead, coach, educate, and direct others.  If you don't believe that to be true then maybe you should take a long look at your relationships in that regard.  That's not to say, again, that you can't be a friend to your child.  As individuals mature emotionally, they recognize logic and the difference between right and wrong.  They have experiences that permit you to engage them and they can learn on their own.  But in dealing with those who are ambivalent about the difference, or have immature tendencies, or simply lack experience in understanding the difference, if you act as a friend rather than as a parent, don't be overly surprised if your children make the wrong choices because you were overly permissive in the attempt to be their friend.

I have myself been guilty of allowing a friendly relationship to cloud my view of how an individual is performing, or in some cases, even in how I respond to their actions when I give them news they don't care to hear, or challenge them with a task they think is objectionable.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for team cohesion and I understand and encourage cohesion as a force multiplier.  But there is a delicate balancing point between cohesion and fraternization.  In an emotionally mature adult, the lines can blur a little more because individuals can process the logic.  In the less mature adult, sometimes what seems to be logical is instead addressed with a great deal of emotion.

As a boss, you will have to make decisions that are occasionally not well recieved by the troops, especially if you are the one who is pushing for change in organizational culture.  As we have also said repeatedly, change is not something that comes easily in a lot of cases.  If it were, it would happen all the time and without resistance.  Consider the fact that you can be an honest, fair, and educated boss that people like to work with, have a lot of respect for, and consider a "friend".  But ultimately, when the hard part of the job comes into view, part of having integrity as a leader is reaffirming to the troops that you will always act in the best interest not of the organization or the personnel, but in the interest of the customers you serve.  If you can do that, no decision you make will be wrong, and people may disagree, but will have to do so respectfully, because service to the customers is the ultimate objective.  

Do yourself a favor as well as your subordinates. Choose what is best to serve the customers you are charged with providing for.


  • Coma Toast says:

    Well said.
    It has been my practice for a long time to walk slowly through the crowd and engage those that you lead, which I think helps to actually know who you're leading and provides reassurance that you're with them, not above them. Having that positive influence with your followers may even provide you with some leverage in certain situations when it comes to conflict resolution and generational gaps in the workplace.
    Certainly it proves difficult to maintain a professional level and keep your emotions in check sometimes.
    Nobody ever said leadership was easy or fun……but it's worth it.

  • I agree that knowing who you are leading is muy importante. Leading, especially during change, requires you to not only apply the heat, but to know when the heat is too much, not enough, or even just wasted energy (because they already get it or the resistance is so high it requires a different approach).

    It certainly is a fine line but as leaders, we have to keep our eye on the prize, and being diverted from the end goal for reasons OTHER than improving the process requires energy spent counter to where it needs to be spent. In this day and age of limited resources, it seems that we should consider that when deciding how deeply we care about preserving “friendships” that cause us to deviate from the goal to serve any other purpose than to meet that goal effectively.

    Excellent feedback- thanks for reading!

  • Glenn E Mate says:

    I really enjoy your views on things and enjoy the Zen. Looking forward to meeting you next week.
    Here is a condensed version of something I am working on, I would like to hear your perspective on the topic if you have a free moment.
    Managers and Leaders, every firehouse has them. Unfortunately, many folks use these two words thinking that they are the same. The two words by definition alone separate the men from the boys when applied to Fire Officers in the Fire Service today.
    By Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term manager, as it may be applied to the Fire Service is: a person who directs a team or athlete. Some common terminology that is synonymous: director, administrator, executive and supervisor. By the same dictionary, the term leader is defined as: a person who leads as a person who has commanding authority or influence. Some common terminology that is synonymous: guide, conductor, pacemaker or trendsetter.
    Becoming an Officer means that on some level the individual has more expertise and wisdom than others, therefore that individual has been put in charge to see that the subordinate firefighters get the tasks and jobs done safely and effectively. Many Officers do not realize how much is entailed when the badge is pinned upon them, basking in that glorious moment of achievement. May it be a career department or volunteer, it makes no difference. Appointed, chosen, by seniority, tested or qualifications, Officers accept the responsibility and welfare of others and the outcome of emergencies. It is the duty of the Company Officer to make the end of the emergency better than when they arrived.
    Managing type Fire Officers accept mediocrity in subordinates, and deal with each of his/her subordinates skill sets at face value. Having an “it is what it is” attitude does not benefit the crew, engine, ladder, rescue, unit, squad, company, department or any other individual in the fire service at any level. When the applying the saying to the fire service, “you are only as strong as your weakest link” it proves the manager type Officer is destine to fail and worse yet, accepted to fail as a person of rank, and fail the subordinates from the start. The job of every fire personnel regardless of position is to minimize risk, harm and damage, beginning with ourselves, and the crews we oversee.
    Leading type Fire Officers take the approach of investing themselves into others, fostering knowledge, experience and education into a daily routine. A leader will challenge an individual to become better, guiding step by step until success has been achieved. A leader will share successes with the team, and be humble with taking any credit for him/her. Great leaders take responsibility for their actions as well as their shortcomings. Standards will be held at a higher level than the “norm”, a leader will expect that subordinates make their best efforts to reach consistency on a regular basis. Active listening and asking questions are good characteristics of a leader, as so being firm and concise when the situation deems it necessary. Leaders make others success a top priority, and make it publicly known to other subordinates the achievements that they have acquired. Leaders make sure that everyone goes home the same way they can to work.
    Choosing what type of Officer an individual wants to become should be obvious. Chief Officers have a duty to their fire departments and communities to look for individuals who want to aspire to be the best that they can as fire service Officers. They also have the responsibility to make available the necessary tools for Officer learning and growth if they cannot provide mentoring themselves. Leading is a tough job; one must have the desire to do it, just as one may have a passion for a baseball team, classic cars, music, or any other imaginable thing that makes us “light up” when we start talking about that special favorite thing.
    At the end of the day, the outcome of the performance of subordinates will be a measureable result. We can only expect the result to be equal to what effort we have put in. Why risk coming up short when the task at hand is monumental and lasting forever.
    Best Regards,
    Glenn E Mate
    Deputy Fire Marshal
    1006 Tech. Com.

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