Whether you started the company at the same time, or just happen to have clicked during a company happy hour, most people end up making friends with some of their coworkers. It’s natural to do so since human beings are programmed to want to develop close and supportive relationships with others.
Some of the best friendships have been developed due to working together, however, that all can come to a screeching halt the day one friend is promoted over the other.
While it’s a common workplace struggle to effectively transition an individual performer to a leader role, it’s perhaps most difficult for the newly crowned manager. Now they are forced to adapt to not only more responsibility and work, but also understanding where the boundaries lie when it comes to friendships at work.
Sooner or later there will be a time when the manager must make unpopular decisions, much to the displeasure of their direct reports who might also be their friends. The reality is that if you allow yourself to care about the emotional or personal aspect of decisions, you’re going to hold yourself back as a manager.
In, Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, authors Linda Hill and Kent Lineback discuss the differences between a boss-employee relationship and a friend relationship.
For instance, the authors’ advice for managers is that being their boss and being their friend should be mutually exclusive for several reasons:
- Friendship exists for its own sake, not as a means to an end.
- Bosses and subordinates are not equals, while true friends are.
- Bosses cannot befriend all their employees equally.
- Friends don’t make each other change their work practices, report on their progress or be accountable for their goals.
At the same time, what should you do if you’re already friends with your direct report before you were promoted? Most likely, you care about that friendship and you don’t just want to throw it out the window.
Well, it might be a slippery slope, but it is possible to maintain the friendship if you work hard at it. Still, there are some steps you should take to ensure that you’re both an effective manager and still a good friend to your buddy.
Set the ground rules
While you’re used to getting lunch with your friend and gossiping about your boss, now that you’re higher up in the company this type of interaction is no longer appropriate. You can’t let yourself get involved in any type of workplace gossip. In addition, you should also not reveal anything about a worker’s salary or performance. Instead of ignoring that things have changed, talk to your friend about your new promotion and let yourself discuss how the friendship might get impacted. Sure, it might seem awkward or uncomfortable, but if you both let everything out in the open, it will be that much easier to resolve any potential issues.
Treat your friend the same as everyone else
One of the biggest complaints people have about their managers is favoritism. Well, probably one of the easiest ways to fall in this trap is to be too lenient on your friend. At the same time, you don’t want to overcompensate and be too hard on them. This is where collaborative planning comes to in handy. Early inclusion of peers and team members creates buy-in with those who can best support you in successfully implementing your vision for change. Listening to and involving others in a discussion is a key skill in building commitment for organizational success. By encouraging others to participate, you elicit ideas for solving problems and finding the best solutions. When others participate they feel more ownership of the project or plan at hand.
Yes, you can have it all
In the end, it’s not easy and it might get testy at times, but it is possible to still be friends. While some managers believe they have to distance themselves from the friend that is not a forgone conclusion. Just because you’re now the manager, it doesn’t mean you can’t still laugh and joke around with them. Just, as we mentioned, make sure you treat your friend like you would any other direct report at work.
It may take some time for you and your friend to get used to the new situation. In the end, promotion or not, you’re still the same person and so is your friend.