Being Boss And The Minefield Of Office Friendships

by Emily Jasper on April 14, 2011

This post is available over at Forbes blogs – Work in Progress:

Over the years, I have learned there is a fine balance between being direct and being aggressive. More on that later.

When you’re aspiring to be the top in school, no one really mentions the “how” you get there as being important. In fact, “how” in school is pretty easy to explain: get good grades, always show up and pour any extra time you have into extracurriculars. “How” isn’t an issue.

Then you step into the workforce, and “how” is suddenly all anyone can talk about. “How” to get the results the “what” people, the ones who only care about numbers and results, focus on. It’s a complicated dance, particularly for younger workers who may not have picked up the steps on their way to the ball.

And should you get promoted, the “how” you learned beforehand isn’t the same “how” you need to succeed now. Confused?

When we first enter the workforce, it is during a time when we just spent years forming friendships in school. Sure, we may have held part-time jobs, but really, there was a pretty clear line between personal and work.

Then we start our real careers, and the line is suddenly blurred. We want to be friends with people in the office (think The Office), a relationship that might be too tricky to navigate at first. We think in terms of favors and coffee dates instead of reports and results.

If you get promoted, the friendship issue is even more complicated. I’vewritten before that some leaders really need to understand that you stop being “one of the gang.” You have to deliver, and while you don’t need to be mean, you do need to set some standards.

When you rely on friendship to help your business run, you are setting yourself up for failure. I would argue that you almost need something more intimate than friendship to make you succeed. Business relationships are built on trust, a trust that includes financial impact and job security.

People have to believe that their livelihood is safe in your hands. Do the same ladies who meet you for girls’ night feel the same? Probably not.

Inspire trust in your actions: be friendly, but hold people accountable; provide stability when you can instead of rocking the boat for fun; consider the bigger picture and sharing what information you can. You know how some teen girls have mothers who just want to be best friends? Most of those teens want their mom to act like a mom. The same goes for you: act like a boss.

The “how” of business needs to be filled with trust, leadership, respect and the desire to do “what” is best, but not at the expense of others. Your “what” may follow by demonstrating some of these skills, but what is more important is that if you are leading in the best manner possible, you will inspire others to lead that way, too. Your “how” will be contagious, and the “what” should be astounding.

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