Last week the Effectiveness-lab discussed certain effective-leadership archetypes and accompanying behavioural traits. As leaders, at certain points of your leadership journey, you will have grappled with a key challenge – when to be ‘friends’ with the ‘led’ and when not to. Getting the correct balance between becoming close friends with those you lead versus keeping the right distance from them, is no mean feat.
It is hard for many leaders to play the chameleonic-leadership archetype: i.e. turn into the ‘real-leader’ you should have been all along, and crack the whip against friends at work. Many colleagues have shared that in doing so, they feel a knot in their stomach and go home feeling like traitors.
In certain parts of the world, certainly Uganda, where I come from, being friends with others demands that we do not betray them. Many years ago, friends in Uganda went as far as exchanging and eating coffee berries smeared with the blood of the so-called friend – this was their equivalent of a life-long friendship vow. In a society that considers friendship a deep commitment, we do not easily turn against friends. We wake up every day, committed to defending friends, but most of all, keeping the peace. The latter is common in many African societies south of the Sahara. Ladies and gentleman, it’s betrayal, to act in a harsh and stern manner towards friends. It is simply un-African!
However, 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 look for love, to get themselves dogs. Apparently, only a dog will give you unconditional love. Human beings will take offence 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 how to get the best out of people in an organisational setting has not helped in making more murky, the already murky waters. Such literature talks to ensuring that the modern workplace is a ‘home away from home’; this has been interpreted by some, to mean creating an atmosphere of harmony at work, where one is all smiles and all the time, and shall never annoy the other. There are all sorts of examples of offices being turned into alternative ‘homes’ for employees: some offices will start with morning coffee where all staff gather in the equivalent of the school common room for the morning ritual; offices have created structures where no one is a boss – an organisation of equals, where output delivery is driven by specialised teams. The teams boss themselves, driven by the organisation vision and mission.
The immediate consequence of organisational management approaches like the above is that – the space between the leaders and the led is closed. A junior staff shall access the leader any time, on any issue, and shall expect to get attention for the same. While the latter is not a problem in itself, and we have seen it create excellent organisational climate and high productivity, over time, it creates a problem for organisations
When staff freely access the leadership at an organisation, the discourse overtime shifts from the business matters at hand, to friendship. 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 big. We tend to become friends. When we become friends, the natural instinct to ‘boss’ others, be the leader you truly are, and where required to crack the whip, gets compromised.
The above leader has not drawn clear boundaries at work, between self and those they lead; in all fairness, it may also be an innate matter caused by a certain cultural disposition.
By the way, what is friendship?
– Having a strong liking for and trust in another person
– Not being an enemy
– Helping or supporting another person
Should leaders be protected from open, 24/7 access by the led?
There are reasons why leadership spaces need protecting from ‘encroachment’ by the led – professional space cannot be treated like we do home space and our dogs. At home, our dogs come with us to the bedrooms, living area, and in our cars to the shopping malls. We are that close to the dogs, they are our friends, and there will be very few occasions when we want to administer punishment – why would you ever want to punish a family dog? We crave for the dog’s enduring love; we can’t envisage a time when we want to be far and out of sight from the dog.
The truth for leaders: it is 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 the so-called friends at work. The latter can arouse all sorts of feelings in leaders – a personal conflict of some sorts. For ‘African’ type leaders, 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 others, we do think very carefully about ‘un-friending’ others.
All said effective leaders can be friends with others at work; it is only human that they are. However, leaders should be careful signing off to total-encroachment on their spaces – you need to leave enough space for manoeuvre, 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, when ‘betraying’ friends at work, something leaders cannot avoid.
Categories: You, the Leader!