I was once told that the top is a very lonely place to be. I have clients that struggle daily to build meaningful relationships with their subordinates for fear of losing their ability to lead. Some fear this outcome due to personal history- they befriended their direct reports and later discovered their influence to be greatly diminished. It’s not surprising that many companies attempt to move an employee being promoted to another team, shift, or department for fear that they will be unable to motivate those who knew him or her as an equal.
I hear the following comment frequently: “I keep my direct reports at arm’s length. It’s what I have to do in order to lead them effectively”. I understand what my clients are saying, and for some of them this statement is whole-heartedly true. Some people are much better served to lead from out front, with a comfortable distance between themselves and their team. But for a choice group of others, I’m happy to point out that there is definitely an “Option #2”.
For the leader who thrives on developing meaningful interpersonal relationships, the option of aloof detachment seems like a kiss of death. For this type of leader, it takes a deeper understanding of who they are and what they want to accomplish while in charge. If you want to be capable of being friends with your subordinates, it can be accomplished with a few key pieces of understanding. You must first set clear expectations and hold every team member accountable to the standards you set. Secondly, you must be able to deliver praise and criticism in a manner that directly addresses the employee’s behavior- not them as a person. And lastly, you have to ensure that the relationships are set on a foundation of respect- for both the individuals involved and for the organization to which you both belong.
Monday Morning Perspective:
“A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.” – John D. Rockefeller
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
This type of leadership does exist today- and I must say, it’s rather amazing to witness. One leader I have the pleasure of working with is quite remarkable at building meaningful interpersonal relationships with his peers and direct reports. He knows their spouse and children’s names, their anniversaries and birthdays, and their favorite foods. He takes the time to ask about their loved ones by name, and always attempts to spend “face time” with his team whenever possible. The people who work for this man all appreciate his friendship, and they bend over backwards to accomplish everything he asks of them. Why? Because they like and respect him, and because they like and treasure their jobs.
One of the strengths that accompany this form of leadership are the clearly outlined expectations that he sets for his employees- and one that he reminds them of often. After a cordial visit or a quick catch-up, he will infamously ask, “So have you sold anything today?” If you didn’t know him, you may think that sounds abrasive. But when you can see him ask that simple question with a broad smile on his face, you know it’s meant to motivate his team to do what they do best. Thanks to his leadership, his team does quite well. They function as a team, reach objectives, and build lasting client relationships that are indicative of the example they’ve been given.
So before you write off the idea of being friends with your subordinates as impossible, reflect back on the man who can close every jovial conversation with “Now go sell something”! This approach takes more effort than a cool, detached demeanor but it definitely has its rewards. If you want your people to go to the ends of the earth for you, they have to like you first!
Have a wonderful week!
© Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.