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Walking the Line Between “Boss” and “Friend”

It’s only natural to want your employees to like you. But it’s difficult to be friends with your employees and still be able to lead them effectively. How can you walk that fine line between being respected and being everybody’s buddy?

  1. Learn to listen. And listen to learn.

As a manager, it’s part of your job to be a sounding board for your employees when they have problems. And whether those problems are personal or professional, you need to practice active listening—be attentive and paraphrase to the employee what they just said, to be sure that you understand what they’re trying to express.

You don’t necessarily have to offer instant advice. Sometimes it’s enough for your employee that you listen and offer to help in the future. But if the matter was personal, be sure to ask follow-up questions down the road—ask about their performance on their night class exam or how their mother is feeling. This helps to create a bond that remains professional.

  1. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Instead of letting your employees come to you with unending complaints about the job with no apparent interest in fixing the situation, turn it around and say, “I see why that’s bothering you. What steps can we take to fix it?” If you require them to not only present a problem but come up with a cause and a solution, you’ll both walk away feeling better. And the chance to collaborate on problem solving will also promote good feelings.

  1. Remember that things are not equal.

Friends are equals, but bosses and direct reports are not. It’s important to ensure that everyone understands the nature of your manager-employee relationship. As a boss, you have to act as an authority, assess your employees’ performance and abilities and sometimes require them to develop and change. When you’re in charge, it’s important to be clear about what your company’s goals are, how your employees are to help you accomplish them, and what they can expect from you.