Every leader needs a friend. Even Batman had Alfred.
Yet there seems to be pressure in some circles for leaders to be a sort of “mystical creature” who can manage all of the pressure and challenges associated with leadership through some sort of inner power source while keeping everyone in the organization at arm’s length. We love the romantic notion of the “Lone Ranger”… (even he had a sidekick).
Typical objections include:
“What if you get too close can you still be objective?”
“People will say you are playing favorites.”
“Keep your ‘personal’ life separate from your ‘professional’ life.”
“What if someone complains to HR?”
Time for a leadership true confession… Over the course of my career I have developed some of my most rewarding and enduring friendships while working in leadership roles. Here’s where it gets really scary…some of these people were my direct reports. Yes, I really said that. Did these “personal” connections ever make me less effective as a leader? No doubt there were times. However, I can say with complete conviction that the benefits have far outweighed any downside I have experienced. Work can be a crazy place and a few crazy friends in which to confide and share the ride can make all the difference…
- They help to keep me sane when things get out of hand
- They give me additional perspectives when facing a difficult decision
- They laugh with me at the ever-present folly of corporate life
- They give me a safe harbor where I can share my fears
- They let me know when I am slipping back into bad habits
- They ask me to tell them how I really am and catch me when I try to hide
- They bring me back to earth when I try to take too much credit
- They wrestle ideas from me that I am embarrassed to share
- They help me stop pretending not to know what I know
- They press me to take action
- They widen my circle of influence
- They make me stop working and go have lunch
- They remind me when I need to show appreciation
The list goes on.
There are some guidelines to consider as with anything in life when choosing your “leadership friends”, (I like to call them my lunatic friends). They are much the same as you would apply when choosing any friend.
- Do they share your values?
- Are your priorities fairly well aligned?
- Are your personalities compatible?
- Will they share openly and be vulnerable with you?
- Do they understand and respect your boundaries?
- Are they willing to challenge you?
To name a few.
In many respects we can never know for sure if our choice of friends will be without risk. If we choose poorly the consequences can and will be painful. For that reason alone some choose to leave their hearts at home and their friendships outside of work. Even when we choose our friends well there are risks to our effectiveness. We need to be careful not to exclude input from people outside of these deeper relationships as this can leave us with dangerous blind spots or to leave some people feeling as though they are “outsiders” which can create divisiveness in the team. Sometimes our decisions may affect people we care about which can make them even more difficult. I suppose there are a number of good arguments for keeping your distance, however, I believe that in doing so we leave a significant portion of our life compartmentalized and as a consequence we leave our hearts and souls diminished.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a favorite book of mine: “The Heart Aroused” by David Whyte. It makes this post rather long but I feel compelled to share it so thanks for your patience.
“The internal willingness to wrestle with our inner demons does not necessarily mean that anyone else in the office is brought into the drama. The real achievement is found when we acknowledge that these unresolved forces, our demons, affect our lives and those who work with us tremendously, simply because everything we do is determined by the fears and hopes we bring to a situation. Recognizing the presence of these fears in our own outlook, we can stop them from playing out unconsciously with our colleagues in the workplace. Nevertheless a form of healing seems to take place when we find a truly sympathetic ear for our more difficult struggles.” (emphasis mine)
So what of leadership and friendship? Are they mutually exclusive? Please share your thoughts… (and be sure to check out the video link – I think I had some of these outfits in the 70′s).