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The Effectiveness-Lab

CEO’s – the ‘fair-weather’ friends

In this last blog of the July 2016 CEO sequel – we make the assumption that you all understand the meaning of ‘fair-weather’ friend. Just in case you don’t: it’s a friend who supports others only when it is easy and convenient to do so.  Born and raised in a remote rural village in Uganda – Nakabugu, trusting and standing by friends during good and bad times was non-negotiable. It was not something that was debated – it was a given; a friend was a friend!

Can bosses be friends at work? What is friendship?
Can bosses be friends at work? What is friendship? Pic. Credit:

As curious young siblings, that went to some of the best schools in Uganda, we wondered whether the paradigm of friendship we saw growing up, always required one to defend friends even when they had done evil things – social-cultural debates of this nature turn into a moot point, as soon as soon you start asking certain questions.

Well, suffice it to say that we were raised believing that good friends are not ‘fair-weather’ but ‘all-weather’ friends, that will stand by their friends through thick and thin. It was an African thing. Fast forward the clock to my immediate post-University days; as a fresh business graduate from the West, my late father, asked me to conduct a review of their businesses. I embarked on the review process, and one of the recommendations in my report was to fire relatives employed in the businesses, some of them very close to both my parents.

I suppose that because it was my father and mother that had to take the final decision whether to fire the relatives or not, I did not have to deal with the internal conflict that arises when CEO’s have to fire close associates, friends, and in some cases also relatives. My father did it with surgical precision – until now, I am not sure that my mother agreed wholesale with my father’s action, but the rest is history.

Seeing my father act the way he did, I learnt early on in my organisational development career that CEO’s are ‘fair-weather’ friends; to the ‘bossed’, CEO’s are disloyal friends that say and do nasty things to their buddies.

The nature of the CEO’s job is such that the ‘bossed’ consider them ‘fair-weather’ friends – to the ‘bossed’ the CEO is a: fake, dis-loyal, pretentious, tough, strange, and weird friend.

CEO’s and friendship at work: damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t

The rough and tumble of a CEO’s life dictate that CEO’s cannot maintain a healthy state of friendship and be able to do their work objectively and effectively. As the top most individual at an organisation, the CEO will have confidants – CEO’s need confidants around them or else they will fail and even if they did not fail, they would be too lonely. We have to spare the men and women that have chosen careers in organisational leadership, the loneliness and resulting ‘depression’ at work

To make matters worse, the CEO may be required to address ‘failings’ of the very confidants they work with and in whom they confide. CEO’s and senior managers reading this blog will know that occasionally, they have felt like traitors to the ‘bossed’, while the ‘bossed’ see the CEO’s as mean, bloodthirsty monsters.

So, feeling besieged and uneasy, what would happen if CEO’s decide to become ‘all-weather’ friends to everyone they ‘boss’? Can’t CEO’s be ‘all-weather’ friends to someone and at the same time give them negative feedback or even fire them, if that was necessary? Perhaps it is us humans that make the assumption that if I am friends with you, whatever manner you want to define friendship, I cannot tell or do annoying things to you.

At the Effectiveness lab, we believe that we simply need to change our ‘perception’ of ‘friendship’ at work, and everything else will fall in line. CEO’s should follow strict guidance on matters to do with friendship at work.

It is not the duty of a CEO to make friends at work; especially friendship like we know and experience in our social spheres. The ‘glue’ that should stick together the CEO, senior staff and the rank and file at the organisation is the Vision and Mission of the organisation, plus the accompanying processes and professional relationships. After all, it is the processes and ‘professional’ relationships that deliver the vision and mission – not friendship per se

Fair-weather friendship will lead you into troubled waters Pic. credit:
Fair-weather friendship will lead you into troubled waters Pic. credit:

Therefore, the obligation of a CEO is to:

  1. Define the organisation’s North-Star and hold ALL staff accountable to it
  2. Treat all employees equally
  3. Relate with all employees but only within the defined business process boundaries
  4. Allow staff ‘airtime’ with your office, but relative to the ‘weight’ of their positions/impact at the organisation
  5. Treat every staff like a human being and not object
  6. Be consistent in what you say and do, especially in line with the above five

The Leadership Conundrum: A leader and you like to be liked, get a dog

The best examples of ‘fair-weather’ friendship, are John Pombe Magufuli – President of Tanzania and Paul Kagame President of Rwanda. Perhaps, it should not surprise us all that President Magufuli’s first state visit was to Rwanda.

To be a CEO, an authentic one at that, is equivalent to accepting the tag ‘dis-loyal friend’ or ‘relative’. CEO’s should not be friends with people, but professionals doing their job and ensuring that in doing so, all staff are treated equal and with respect

Because CEO’s are human and fallible, they get confused in regards to the above – sadly, the above is a matter for which CEO’s are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t!

Friends, that is the nature of the business of being the CEO; to the ‘bossed’, please note that good CEO’s will always be ‘fair-weather’ friends; if they did choose to become ‘all-weather’ friends, it would be at a heavy cost to their careers

FYI – yesterday (30th July), and today in India (1st Sunday in August), was/is the UN’s International day of friendship!


5 responses to “CEO’s – the ‘fair-weather’ friends”

  1. The answer is embedded in the moral fabric of leaders! YES, and nothing else.


    1. I could not agree more – but as well Seddu, whoever it is that coaches and mentors you as a young leader, influences your mastery of critical ‘softs’ like this one – I am not a believer of leadership seminars and conferences and the impact they have on emerging leaders, but one-on-one coaching with leaders that have the pedigree to grapple with ‘fair-friend’ dynamics

      Have a blessed day sir!


  2. ………’all – weather’ or ‘fair weather’ friend? …………………………. Just the other day I was engaged in a conversation with a friend and we were trying to understand who a friend is? At the end of it, we agreed that direct reports and fellow SMTs might not necessarily be friends but people with a working relationship. Once you keep it at that level, then the expectation gaps are minimized and as a supervisor you can then take any decision – but not willy-nilly!

    However, when one chooses not to mix work and friendship, others can misinterpret it as lack of interpersonal skills – ABG you remember what one NGO did to one of their SMT member?


    1. Seddu Okuga – thanks for reading the blog and providing wise counsel

      Keep the line divided – between you and the led – respect them – act with consistency and all will be good!!

      Why do we leaders fail at this all the time?


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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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