Besties With The Boss

Originally published on March 28, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press

Once upon a time in a management handbook written long ago, someone said a manager should not befriend his or her staff.

This belief has been passed down for generations of managers and has held strong because of its very solid premise: When a manager and a staff member are friends on and off the job, it can create issues such as perceived favoritism, difficulty in disciplinary situations, and retention of employees who would otherwise be let go.

Although these things may happen and must be guarded against, every once in a while we should look at core beliefs such as these and question them.

It isn’t because they are wrong, but rather we should ensure our belief systems and daily practices still align with the workforce we are part of. This alignment will further our ability to accomplish objectives because our intentions and actions will be in the same place.

Friendships in the workplace are a positive sign of a team mindset and also create a sense of belonging for people.

Bonding with others who share common experiences is a very natural tendency. As is bonding with those we spend a lot of time with. Unfortunately, there is often a gap in this type of social interaction between managers and their staff.

Although these type of relationships should be approached with a holistic understanding of the professional roles as they play out in the workplace, managers should consider friendships with their team for the following reasons:

1. Inter-team friendships reduce barriers to communication.

A natural-born friendship based on trust and a mutual sense of appreciation for one another makes open communication easier. When two people have a relationship based on choice rather than circumstance, they are much more likely to share thoughts and feelings that stem from an honest place.

2. Being friends with your team reduces the “royalty complex.”

Have you ever had a great leader in your life, or a leader you’ve admired from afar? We place them on a pedestal and give them superhuman qualities. Somehow they don’t have any problems, they are made of money and they have the perfect life.

Understanding that the people you lead may see you in this light is required; perhaps not to this extreme, but as a leader you are automatically expected to “have it all together.”

Friendships with your team, or rather exposing your vulnerabilities to colleagues can go a long ways toward the cohesiveness of a team. This isn’t to say you have to come into the office and air all your dirty laundry, but rather sharing real struggles you face, quirks about your personality or personal life will make your staff see you more as one of them rather than furthering the line of separation.

3. It is lonely at the top.

The more we separate ourselves regardless of the reasons, the less we will feel accepted. Suddenly, you may feel like you can only socialize with other “managers” outside of work time, which sometimes may be more forced relationships than those born of naturally common ground.

Maybe we put too much thought into the separation of these relationships. If a friendship is going to form, let it. If it is not, don’t force it. Be brave in letting your guard down while at the same time being resolute enough to know that if your work BFF messes up on the job, you will have to have the maturity and backbone to right the situation.

There are all the practical reasons why managers and their staff should not be friends as mentioned above. Perhaps these reasons are perpetuated by a slight amount of insecurity on our part as managers.

We feel like if we don’t let anyone too close, they won’t discover that (some days) we have absolutely no idea what we are doing. Or worse, if we let people in they may discover we are fighting with our spouse and want to crawl under our desk and cry, or we were up all night with a screaming baby. We are afraid to let people see the very vulnerability that may be the common ground bonding us together.

Allowing people into our world and sharing in our struggles, triumphs, goals and defeats will encourage everyone to bring their whole authentic self to the workplace. After all, how can we do our best work while also upholding a personification of something that isn’t quite real? Friendships at work may be the key to our unlocked potential.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.