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The Effectiveness-Lab

The Leadership conundrum: if you are a leader and you like to be loved, get a dog!

Last week the Effectiveness-lab discussed certain effective-leadership archetypes and accompanying behavioral traits. Leaders grapple with a critical challenge – when to be ‘friends’ with the ‘led’ and when to be the boss that says and does stuff that isn’t music to the ears of those they lead.  Getting the balance between friendship versus keeping the right distance between you and your direct/indirect reports, is no mean feat.

A leader and you what to be loved, go get a dog!
You are a leader and you want to be loved, get a dog!….this is our Jonny!!

It’s hard for leaders to play the chameleonic-leadership archetype: i.e., turn into the ‘real-leader’ and crack the whip against the friends of yesterday and tomorrow.  Colleagues have shared that in doing so, they feel a knot in their tummies and go home feeling like traitors.

In certain parts of the world, certainly, Uganda, where we come from, being friends with others, demands that we do not betray them and that peace is kept among friends.  Many years ago, friends in Uganda went as far as eating coffee berries smeared with the blood of the so-called friend – the latter was the seal of enduring friendship and trust.  In a society that considers friendship a deep commitment, we do not quickly turn against friends, even at work. We wake up every day, committed to defending friends, but most of all, keeping the peace. Having traversed Africa quite a bit, the latter is common in many African societies South of the Sahara.

Well, the above is true until the African in you confronts a professional leadership environment

In a McKinsey article on leadership, we are all reminded that leadership is not about being loved – the article advises leaders that lead and at the same time looking for love, to get themselves dogs. Apparently, only a dog will give you unconditional love. Human beings take offense when you crack the whip on them, and will not always like you for that. As leaders, we have to know and accept that as a fact of life.

Management literature on getting the best out of people in an organizational setting has made murky waters, murkier. Certain management gurus talk to ensuring that the modern workplace is a ‘home away from home.’  Leaders, especially from culture setups like the above, default to their cultural comfort zone by interpreting statements like the latter as: creating harmony at work, where one is all smiles and all the time, association bordering on the social than professional side, and disdain for annoying and unsettling other humans is evident – and in the latter, giving negative feedback gets sacrificed

The immediate consequence of organisational management approaches like the above is that – the gap between the leader and those they lead is quite small. A junior staff accesses the leader anytime, on any issue, expecting to get attention on demand. While the latter may not be a problem right away, and we have seen it create an excellent organizational climate and high productivity, over time, challenges manifest

When professional space becomes too socially influenced, we are all buddies syndrome, the instinct to ‘boss’ others, and be the leader you indeed are and that cracks the whip when needed, gets compromised.  Human nature is such that the more we interact and relate, the more we get to know each other. We naturally become close acquaintances in ways small and significant. We tend to become friends and default to our African self [we have also seen non-Africans that do the same].

At this point, it’s useful to remind you of the definition of friendship:

  • Having a strong liking for and trust in another person
  • Not being an enemy
  • Helping or supporting another person

So, should leaders be protected from open, 24/7 access by those they lead?

In professional environments, there are reasons why leadership spaces need protecting from ‘encroachment’ by those you boss – professional space cannot be treated like you do home space and dogs. At home, your dogs come with you to the bedroom, living area, and in your car to the shopping mall. you are that close to the dogs, they are your friends, and there is hardly any occasion when you want to administer punishment – why would you ever want to punish a family dog?  After all, you crave for the enduring love they give back.

The truth for leaders: it’s a different ball game at the workplace – yes, you can be friends with those you lead and work with. However, leaders should also be aware that time will come when they need to play foe against so-called friends at work. The latter can arouse all sorts of feelings in leaders – a personal conflict of some sorts. For the ‘African’ type leader, turning against friends is an anathema; for any human being that is ’normal’ ‘un-friending’ others is no easy thing; even on Facebook where things are virtual and away from the prying eyes of the virtual-friends, we do think very carefully about ‘un-friending’ them.

The long and short is, effective leaders are friends with others at work, and it’s only human that they are. However, leaders must take care not to sign off to the total-encroachment on their spaces.  Leave enough space for maneuver, should it come to reprimanding the so-called friends.  For such reprimand, you will not always be loved.

Effective leaders balance free-access vs. restriction to their personal space – leaders need that isolation and quiet, to later be able to ‘betray’ friends at work [read reprimand], something leaders cannot avoid.


7 responses to “The Leadership conundrum: if you are a leader and you like to be loved, get a dog!”

  1. Reblogged this on Gabazira's blog and commented:

    We continue our March reblogs that go back in time – this one is about the tough love leaders have to offer – it’s a real conundrum. Good reading!


  2. […] ALSO READ: The Leadership Conundrum: A leader and you like to be liked, get a dog […]


  3. Thank you so much Apollo! These series of posts speak to my favourite topic- human behaviour!

    Leadership is a relationship- it takes a deeply connected and honest relationship with ‘self’ as a start. Once congruence between, ones values, thoughts and actions is achieved then it is possible to experience an effective relationship with the ‘led’. More importantly, it is possible to draw the boundaries when interacting with the ‘led’

    To be loved or not as a leader? well, in my opinion, love is not found beyond self. What is found externally is attachment. So a leader who has developed a distinct sense of internal love and let go of their attachments to any thing or anyone, any idea or any beliefs will successfully manage their relationships with the ‘led’.

    I will add that happiness is also an internal process. As human beings we confuse happiness for pleasure. Work may be pleasurable but it is certainly not going to provide us with happiness. Leadership offers opportunities of pleasure, however with the mutable trends that organisations are experiencing today, episodes of pleasure are few and far between. Pleasurable episodes are more regular when one is dining, wining and dancing – however within hours it is clear that unhappiness still lurks…even if it’s just the morning after that one has to contend with ( smile)

    Collective cultures as you point out have some ethos around ‘loyalty to friendships’. The core of the mafia! In Africa, generally we have collective problems, collective solutions, collective shame and collective success. Mis -managed this culture enables the ‘lowest common denominator ‘ score to prevail both on a personal and official capacity in various ways. Often in newly formed ‘chamas’ (investment clubs) I am always fascinated at the way the final number decided on as a contribution, is the least affordable contribution proposed by the group. This is generally the case, even if the majority can contribute more money. Why? because difficult and challenging conversations are not a done thing. Rather than raise the bar for the person and challenge the individual to dig a little deeper, the ‘chama’ prefer to agree to accommodate that individual at their level! Consequently, there is very little growth, if at all. The more ambitious members of the club resign and STAY! In other words they attend the meetings, contribute the monthly fee, feel disillusioned, carry the burden of their frustration on their shoulders and in the worst case scenario simply become negative but STAY. It’s like a bad marriage. You see that is what loyalty looks like in collective cultures. Sadly Apollo, this dilemma that you so aptly describe has far reaching consequences. The good news is that if we as leaders and the ‘led’ develop the highest sense of responsibility, free ourselves from dependency and free ourselves from attachment we can be our real and true self. Only then can we be ‘authentic’ for others.


    1. Christine thanks for reading the blog. Clearly human behaviour makes you a very 😁 lady.

      Excellent insight thank you nyabbo. The link between African collectivism and authenticity has always fascinated me – even more, when applied to modern leadership contexts!!!!

      Now – how do leaders free themselves from dependency and attachment? It is a big one is it not?


      1. There are techniques Ssebbo! And that is what an executive coach that claims to transform leaders, teams and organisations in general would use.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Herbert Mugumya Avatar
    Herbert Mugumya

    These are daily facts. Too much familiarity breeds contempt. Even when a leader is socially engaging to his team, some invisible red line should be drawn. In practice, where that line doesn’t exist, encroachment of leader’s space is inevitable and risky. I understand why performance appraisals are subjective these days. Formal relationships become informal in workplaces. However, to remain relevant in management…apply cultural context specific sensitive management principles. It helps.


    1. Couldn’t agree more Kairu – thanks for reading the blog!

      By the way, even when you limit encroachment as a leader, cracking the whip can be hard – we are seeing it at Makerere MISR right now!!


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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