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:
- I am your boss.
- 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.
- 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.