There’s a particular problem that leaders face, and it happens in companies, non-profit organizations, churches, and ministries. Far too often – for whatever reason – the only real friends that CEO’s, pastors, and other leaders have are people who happen to work for them. Look around you and you’ll see it more than you’d expect.
The first response I hear is that these are people who are close to the leader because they’re with him or her every day. They understand the leader, and they share the vision. I fully understand that argument. You certainly want to work with people you like and are friendly with, so hanging with those people from the office seems perfectly fine. But here’s where you run into problems:
You won’t always hear the truth from employees, and that’s one of the most important aspects of being a real friend. It’s not the employees fault – after all they depend on the paycheck, and have to be careful. So I’ve discovered that no matter how “close” you might be – ultimately, they know their job is on the line, and are very careful with what they say.
If you think for a minute that you’re getting the straight dope from employees who you think are your best friends, then you couldn’t be more wrong. It also taints the waters with other employees.
When they see a fellow employee who’s your best friend, it creates an unbalanced environment in the workplace. They see favor happening, and know it’s often based not on the employee’s performance, but on your personal relationship. My recommendation? Find close friends that aren’t employees.
True friends need to have nothing to lose. They need to love you unconditionally – and not be dependent on you for a job. A best friend is your best source of truth for accountability, feedback, and just letting you know when you’ve been a jerk.
I’m sure a number of leaders will respond that this post is poppycock. That they’ve been best friends with an employee for years. Perhaps they were even best friends first, and then they got hired. But believe me, once a “best friend” becomes your employee, something significant changes. When a paycheck is on the line, it creates a barrier to real honesty – certainly not all the time, but sooner or later, your friendship will be compromised for the sake of the job.
And trust me – it’s a two way street. How hard is it to fire your best friend? Think about it. And if your best friend is currently your employee, don’t just dump them, but know that they won’t be relating to you like an outsider with nothing to lose.
Just remember that a best friend is someone who has nothing material to gain from the relationship. Outside of your spouse of course, working with your best friend can become a challenge if you’re not careful.
What’s been your experience?