I have written about this before, including in my book, and most of the post which follows is an updated edit of a 2010 column I had written for Say “Alaka‘i” when I wrote for The Honolulu Advertiser. This time however, it came back to mind because of recent experiences I have had with a manager who has succeeded in being the exception to the rule: Great Boss first, while very good friend second.
He’s got it right. He is amazing at turning down the friend when he needs to turn up the boss. His subordinates know the cues, accepting them and following them.
After years of working and coaching in several different work cultures, disciplines and industries, I remain convinced that his way is the only way it can happen. You must be a highly competent and effective manager, and consistently so, before you enter the realm of friendship with subordinates. He is quite rare indeed. What he has accomplished however, and what he constantly demonstrates in deference to being Great Boss first and foremost, is possible, and it is something all Alaka‘i Managers can achieve should they decide to strive for it.
My caveat to that statement, is that it is not likely to happen in the short term, nor should it. That track record of being a great boss first-and-consistently-so takes time, with effectiveness achieved in both managing and leading. The gentleman I refer to is a career manager who stepped off the promotions racetrack satisfied with the progression of his Circle of Influence. He wants to concentrate all his attentions in perfecting the job he intends to retire in as legacy he’ll leave behind, outliving him long after he is gone.
That’s declaration of what a personal vision of “I’m a manager.” sounds like.
The Friendship Factor; Be the Best Boss Instead
Quick story: It was one of those situations where you try hard to give others their privacy, but they are totally absorbed in their conversation and unconcerned; I stood in line for coffee, waiting for my turn to order among a morning crowd likely enroute to their offices in downtown Honolulu. Thus I could not help but overhear the exchange right behind me between two young women about something which happened the day before, this sentence staying with me longer than the rest:
“I know she’s the boss when we’re at work, but I really thought we were friends too, and that should count for something, right?”
Um, no, it shouldn’t.
I could just imagine the complications; on-again off-again friendships with the boss at work can make for messy workplaces where the rules of engagement are as temporary and slippery as the rain puddles left by a tropical storm.
Friendship is not bad in and of itself; there is a lot of good we associate with it. When you’re the boss however, friendship is not what the people who will look up to you for direction, for support, for coaching, and for leadership are looking for. They want, and they often need and crave, a great boss.
Think about the best boss you have ever had.
What made them so good?
Chances are, a substantial part of the reason that relationship worked so well for both of you is that there was no confusion of roles. Chances are, that person treated everyone consistently, focused on goals complementing company mission and vision, and individual performance and growth. Chances are, that person tried to be only one thing for you, and the one thing you expected them to be; a great boss.
- The boss can, and should, be someone you admire, respect, and count on.
- The boss can, and should, be someone you ask for coaching from, someone you know will dish out those clear expectations and tough love when you need them most.
- The boss can, and should, be someone you would like to mentor you, knowing you will learn from them, and they will challenge you to deliver nothing but your best in every situation.
To deliver all that, they need not be friends with you. On the contrary, friendship layers complexity where a relationship can best be kept clear and simple.
The “friendship factor” is this: Friendship shouldn’t factor into any of this at all; it doesn’t have to.
When Aloha thrives within your Alaka‘i management style, the workplace atmosphere feels as warm and friendly as you need it to be.
Are you the boss? Own it!
Instinctively most managers know this. Yet one of the earliest traps new supervisors often fall into is trying to be best friend or after-work beer buddy to their employees. Well, take it from someone who has seen this strategy backfire time and again; employees don’t really want you to be a father figure, second mother, best friend, soul mate, or even confidant. They want you to be their boss! A strategy-mapping, consistent, objective, organized and predictable boss with an inspiring vision, and a boss who has the same high expectations for everyone they manage — including themselves.
You will seldom, if ever, come across employees who say that to you directly; however, when that’s what you deliver, many will thank you for being the kind of leader they wanted. They will recognize in you the manager they needed. They will sing your praises as their best boss ever.
When you hire people they come connected. Your employees have families and friends. Your role as their manager is a different one, and it is one they come on board expecting you to fill — boss! Your role is one they will not have anywhere else; the only place you can find and benefit from a Best Boss relationship is at work. On the other hand, you have heaps more options when it comes to finding great friends, and great bosses are A-okay with that: They know those friendships are healthy for you.
The work of being a manager can take on a whole new viewpoint of opportunity and possibility when you realize that boss, coach and mentor is who you can be for someone else. Being the “best boss ever” is a great role to pursue: To execute their jobs well, employees need teachers, coaches, cheerleaders and mentors, and that’s what their managers need to be for them.
Great managers relish the opportunity — and the honor and privilege.
Complementary reading here in the Managing with Aloha Archives:
- Great Managers Start Great: An ALOHA Rite of Passage. Do you remember what it was like when you got your very first supervisory assignment or in-management position? I do. Two words come to mind for me: Heady and scary.
- People Who Do Good Work. Do Good Work. Do your best work. No one wants the kind of success that had traded on favor, or could only be attributed to good luck. It’s not sweet enough. It doesn’t satisfy you completely.
- Be Brave in Setting Your Limits. Say YES to the Role you Choose. Say NO to the Role others impose on you.
- Today’s Work Ethic: Work for you 1st. Personal 1st, professional 2nd, integrated. Talk about work ethic again. Bring it into your workplace conversations, and say what you want it to be about.
- This one will take you to RosaSay.com: 5 Essentials Employees Need to Learn — From You.
Extra Credit Bonus Link: Review The Manager’s Oath here — Managers Make Promises They Can Keep.