Can Your Boss Be Your Friend?
Another day, I was scrolling through LinkedIn and came across an interesting poll by Kees van der Ert precisely with this question, can your boss be your best friend? Interestingly from 27,726 participants on the survey, a staggering 7,763 people said yes. This is around 28%, not negligible, and it made me think about my own experience as a manager or as “the boss” – could I be friends with my direct reports and any other people in the team? Well, this was an interesting question to answer indeed.
As managers, we are supposed to coach our team, and we should lead with authenticity. I voiced several times that managers don’t coach, they mentor. Authenticity is needed so that you connect and show you genuinely care. This is where things get blurry – if you care and you click, then the friendship will or can develop – but how do you separate friendship from work and related performance issues? How do you stay objective?
During my career, I developed friendships with people who reported directly to me and others whom my direct reports supervised. These friendships were among the most rewarding and close to my heart. Still, when I had to be objective about addressing performance matters, I managed them as employees, not friends. It was painful due to my empathic nature, and I had to plan the difficult conversions. In the end, I did it. Did I have remorses? Yes, I did. I was able to pass the emotional strain and do what I needed to do empathically, compassionately and respectfully. I had to let go of people who were “friends”, and in the end, it ruined our relationship but had to be done.
Still, today, it was and is not easy.
Have I ever been friends or best friends with a boss? Sort answer, maybe. Sometimes.
In my opinion, a boss is an acquaintance, not a friend, best or not. Maybe one starts to develop friendship, which is good to acknowledge and act upon by being conscious that a boss is foremost an acquaintance and a colleague. Like the case study or example in Kees’ post, I separate home and work quite well nowadays. There were times when I was confused about work, home, and office, especially during this pandemic and during the WFH (work from home) transition, which COVID-19 accelerated. Then I realised that work is what you do, home is where you be, and the office is where you work.
In my opinion, a boss is an acquaintance, not a friend, best or not.
Building relationships based on trust and empathy is crucial for us as humans. In theory and principle, one can develop friendships with their direct reports, team, and other people at work. It is our choice.
If you choose to befriend your boss, these are issues that you need to be aware:
- Favoritism or nepotism. Your colleagues and co-workers, and most importantly your peers, might perceived you as the “boss favorite” and you can start to be part of office gossip. You should avoid that.
- It is all about business, it’s not personal. Being a manager or an employee your role in an organization is to get your job done, and manage performance. I have found out that when you are seen as the “guy next door”, or the “cool boss” or even as “friendly guy” you have more difficulty managing performance and mentoring your staff.
- Don’t share too much as this can hurt you on the long run. In a normal, standard professional relationship with your manager there are issues you do not discuss or share. When you and your boss are friends barriers can be lowered and you can end-up sharing more than you should, which can in turn block a desired promotion, your career opportunities and your personal and professional growth.
The role of a boss is to be a great boss, not to be a best friend. Remember that, in the end, your boss is the one who has the authority to dismiss you, promote you, or authorise a raise for you. You are their first and most important employee, and this is the relationship that matters the most. You want to allow your boss to set the tone for your relationship. Some bosses are delightful and familiar, and others have solid and clean barriers. No matter what, you want to hold clean barriers together with your manager. Based on my experience, I suggest you be wise, set boundaries (even if your boss doesn’t ), and be a professional. In the long run, this is the best.
Bringing it all together.
Work is what you do, and bringing it to your home and private life can be dangerous. It can make you more vulnerable than you need to be. Friendship with your boss is a blurry area of emotions and feelings. It is irrational, as we need to connect ourselves with people, particularly with people like us. It is easier as it is our cosy comfort zone. At the end of the game, it is your choice.
I wonder if you developed a BFF (best friend forever) relationship with your boss or team members.
Let me know in the comments below.
DISCLAIMER. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and they are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company, individual or anyone or anything.