OPINION: Can You Be Friends With Your Employee/Employer?
By Paul Maslany
This is a question that I haven’t considered from a boss’s point of view before, and not something I ever spent much time contemplating at all really. Even from the employee’s point of view. But now that I work for Salt IO, and I get to do interesting things like produce podcasts, or write newsletters, I actually get paid to contemplate all these new ideas and explore them. As long my contemplation gets utilized to produce tangible results, that is. If I spend too much time contemplating, I’m sure I’d be contemplating things from the unemployment line.
Today was a day where I got to spend extra time contemplating though. For one, I get to explore the idea of being a boss, and I get my first source material in Episode 22 of Leadership in Tech, “Can You Be Friends With Your Employees?” This is a great starting point, but I had a feeling in today’s world I needed to explore this further, especially how social media like Facebook, and Twitter comes into play. So back to my old friend Google to see what I find.
There didn’t seem to be much agreement between whether you could be friends with your employees, or not. Some articles were about finding the right balance, while others were very anti-friend all around. There seemed to be one thing that was unanimous, that you should NOT be facebook friends with your employees, at all. I read that some employers create a professional profile, to use for employees seeking to connect online, so they can guard their personal information and friends while still appearing ‘friendly’ and involved.
I would think that if employers and employees, especially in a professional workplace, wanted to stay in touch on the internet with a social media structure, then isn’t that specifically what LinkedIn is for? I know there are a great variety of types of jobs out there, and even more of types of people in charge. I have had a lot of odd jobs, and a few good ones, in addition to being in the military. This gives me a much more informed opinion for the employer side of things. While Errol was a ‘boss’ in the SEALs, I was at the very bottom of the totem pole as an enlisted Private 2 (E-2).
Most jobs that are in the range of minimum wage, or close to it, most of the bosses can be friendly at times but usually keep a fine line between the employees and them. In jobs like fast food, or temp labor, the management stayed completely separate and would never even consider a friendship with an employee.
But regardless of the job, or anything else, I think that Kathi Elster, co-author of Working With You Is Killing Me, said it best: “Think ‘friendly’, not ‘friends.’” She also said that “It’s not uncommon for many new supervisors to cross the line in either direction—they can become too friendly and then can’t discipline, or they can become too strong of an authority figure and turn staff off.” Balance.
She hit the nail on the head! If your let it go too far in either direction, you will become less effective as a supervisor. Now, there are always many many different types of situations, such as family businesses, or jobs that will inspire a more personal or emotional connection between leaders and subordinates, such as the military, police, or fire department.
All in all, it’s not just about being a fun boss, a friendly boss, or even a boss who isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done in terms of discipline or staff management. What it’s about is being a boss who can also be a leader, who can lead by example, as well as inspire their employees. Yes, you must do things like discipline and reviews, but you can do them in a way that nurtures growth instead of causing resentment or fear. It’s a boss who can manage these things who will rise above the rest.