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.
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.
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