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You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid

Christmas_story_ralphie"I want an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle."

Anybody who has seen the move, "A Christmas Story," is grinning right now.  If you have not yet seen this movie, climb out from under your rock and turn on your television this month.

That being said, everyone tried to warn Ralphie of the risks of getting what he wanted.  Still, he was determined.  Persistent.  Tenacious.  Annoyingly so.

We think we want certain things.  We think they will make us successful and significant.  We think we know better than everybody else.  We KNOW what it takes to accomplish our professional goals.  And we will not be distracted.

Such was the case with a blog post I ran across today on Business Knowledge Source blog.  The article was entitled, "How to be a manager and a friend."  YIKES.  Is that a realistic goal in today's world?  I look at these two roles, and I see almost two sets of expectations and needs.  Have we become that touchy-feely that we have to make this intersection a goal?

The author of the article is unclear... one of their writers who simply goes by D.F.  This person gives seemingly sound (if not overly obvious) advice to becoming both a friend and a manager:

  • Build good relationships... (um... duh... should be a principle regardless of goals)
  • Create a positive work environment (we'll get back to this one)
  • Reduce office politics (don't get me started) through team building
  • Provide a competitive salary because a friend wouldn't undercut a friend
  • Take employee concerns seriously
  • Communicate openly

I can't argue with any of these... except maybe the office politics issue, but then again I'm a little biased about this.  And I'm not arguing against this article in favor of managers becoming rotten two-faced back-stabbers.  There are certainly enough of those around without my endorsing that behavior.  My concern is people wanting to be both a manager and a friend.  While they do not have to be, the goals are somewhat mutually exclusive.  It's like being a parent and a friend.  The roles of parent and manager have to come first.  There are certain things that must be accomplished, and there are accountabilities to both roles to ensure that things are done right.  There are also huge consequences if the roles of manager or parent are screwed up.  Friendship, if we're lucky, is the by-product of the role performed correctly.  But be clear:  when there is a role conflict, the role of friend must take a back-seat - again, not to the extent of being mean to the employee - but so that the accomplishment can occur.  I've seen too many kids screwed up by parents trying too hard to be their friends, and I've seen too many employees set adrift by managers trying too hard to be their friends.

Within my roles as an advisor on Office-Politics.com and as a college instructor listening to his students and as an active participant in the corporate land of cubicles, I've seen what happens when a peer becomes a supervisor.  Many a friendship has been ruined by a single promotion.  Sometimes the friend role is forsaken completely for the afore-mentioned bad behavior as the new manager purposely attempts to drive a wedge in the relationships with his former peers.  Sometimes it is because the new supervisor attempts to maintain the friend role at the expense of the management role.

Yes, a good manager can be nice, supportive, caring, empathetic, helpful, and nurturing.  But these traits should exist within the role of a manager rather than as a friend.  When you pursue success at both roles at all costs, watch you.  You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

What do you think?  Is it realistic to pursue both roles simultaneously?  Should it be a goal?

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Comments

Pawel Brodzinski

You write "The roles of parent and manager have to come first." I can't agree. It all depends. I have a friend who I know for years. For some time it happened so I was his boss. And never, even for a moment, I considered to put my managerial role above friendship. And it worked both ways. He was extremely fair when it came to business. I think we both tried hard not to give other a reason to complain.

I've also been in other relations like that (on both sides) and for me it always worked well. When none of peers is trying to exploit friendship at work there shouldn't be much problems with that.

And at the end, for me being a friend (to some people) is more important to being a manager. It's just a function of priorities in life.

Timothy Johnson

Hi Pawel. Thanks for commenting and for politely disagreeing with my premise... however, you write:

"He was extremely fair when it came to business. I think we both tried hard not to give other a reason to complain."

and

"When none of the peers is trying to exploit friendship at work there shouldn't be much problems with that."

Both of those statements support my point. The role of manager-employee did come first, because you pointed out that with all of your relationships, effort was made to maintain the business needs. With your first example, the friendship was pre-existing and you did not set out to be a friend and a manager to the employee. Where people get into trouble is where they attempt to develop both roles simultaneously from scratch.

Pawel Brodzinski

I think it all depends how you define which role (manager or friend) drives you to do particular things. With my first example friendship was pre-existing indeed and that's why our professional relation was always on the second place. Effort was made to no to fail but it was driven by our friendship, not because of reporting structure at the company. But I agree the situation can be interpreted both ways as we've played it safe trying not to undermine both relations. Anyway if I had to sacrifice one of them in this very case it would be a professional one.

Quite a different thing is when relation starts at work and pupate into friendship. I know it is possible as a couple of my former bosses are my friends, although it is very hard to achieve. When you are in that kind of situation you will more often use this "manager first, friend second" approach.

If I had to find a rule here I'd say the stronger friendship is the less place can be found to put it on the side while at work. One of my closest friends I have I met in the office. We had no chance to work in manager-subordinate environment although it was very close for a moment. If it had happened it would have been the situation as in the first example. The only reason was the strength of our personal relation.

Bob Loch

Tim,

I have to agree that the managerial duties have to come first. Being the cynic, I would worry about the legal ramifications of equal opportunity. In the event of promoting your friend, though they may be well qualified, it could be construed as the manager giving the individual more opportunity to be qualified via the friendship.

What implications would friendship have with mentors?

Timothy Johnson

Hi Pawel... I can't disagree with you, as it really is a function of personal values. The key point of the article is that managers should not seek to actively cultivate the "friend" relationship with their subordinates. As you've admitted, there is too much of a potential for both roles to be compromised. If a friendship naturally grows, that's different. If the two were friends before the manager relationship occurred, that's different. As a manager, you are placed in that role which gives you an obligation to your company to perform in a certain manner (as Bob has implied in his comment). If the two roles are in conflict (and your personal values/integrity are not being asked to be compromised), then you have an obligation to your employer to put the management role first... unless your friend wants to outbid your employer... but let's not go there.

Bob, I don't see the friend/mentor relationship in the same plane as the management relationship. Unless formally assigned by your employer, most mentor/protege relationships grow naturally in much the same way as a friendship does.

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