Too Close for Comfort: Friend or Boss?

Over-matey management

iHR Australia and present: Over matey manager behaviour

Those who have attended my training program, Custodians of Culture, will know that I often talk about the pitfalls of being ‘overly friendly’ with your staff. I am not talking about being lovers or those with whom you choose to have personal friendships outside the workplace. I am talking about the way you engage with members of your team at work. I once knew a guy who convinced himself that you get more out of a team when you hit the town with them for drinks every Friday night, engaged in their sordid banter or provided work-based counselling to them about anything and everything that was happening in their personal lives.

‘This guy’ was me (20 years ago) and ‘this guy’ was often left in a position of paralysis when it came to having tough talks about performance or behaviour. One day I grew up and became more confident in myself, understanding that work colleagues would judge my leadership ability based upon my capacity to inspire, influence, provide clarity, act fairly and stand strong in the face of hard times.

Some participants often ask me, “How do I know if I’m too close to my people?” I believe it comes down to your own true feelings about your capacity to do, and not do, some critical things as a manager and leader. It is also about how you do, and don’t, behave.

So, here is a short test for you and answer it honestly.

Q1. When I am feeling emotional, are there one, two or more people from my reporting team in whom I regularly confide?

Q2. Is there anybody on my team to whom I don’t give honest feedback about their behavior because ‘I really like them and care about their feelings’?

Q3. Do I do the work of others because I would rather do it myself than ‘dent their confidence’ or have ‘unnecessary conflict’ with them?

Q4. Do I bring one, two or more of my team into my workspace when I want to share a slightly ‘naughty’ picture or joke with them, then find myself saying ‘don’t tell the others about this’?

Q5. Do I make sure I get to as many of those ‘non-org’ sponsored social events in order to ‘engage effectively’ with the team?

Q6. Do I find myself talking to the same few team members at every staff function?

Q7. Are there a couple of the ‘more difficult’ individuals who report to me, to whom I don’t say much because ‘I’d rather not bother them’ when ‘I know they find it as difficult as I do’?

Q8. Do I have a couple of trusted individuals on my team to whom I give MOST of the ‘big jobs’ because ‘I can trust them’ to get it done ‘unlike a number of others on my team’?

Now that you have answered these honestly, let me give you a little bit of totally ‘non-validated’, but definitely highly, creative feedback. If you answered ‘yes’ to 0 or 1 of the questions, you are actually on the right page when it comes to FAIR and DECISIVE leadership. You are unlikely to be plagued by the paralysis caused by being ‘too matey’ and emotional about your people. Your team probably sees you as even-handed, fair and decisive.

If you answered ‘yes’ to 2 or 3 of these questions you have definitely got to take a look at yourself. Although, you may not be totally over-matey with your people, there are likely to be some behaviours that might have some people questioning your fairness and objectivity.

If you answered yes to 4, 5 or 6 questions, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your style. People, who are not in the ‘favoured few’, are talking behind your back about the fact that they don’t, or are unlikely to get, a fair-go. If you don’t have a favoured few and everyone is getting the over-matey treatment, they probably like you but think you have a weak management style or can be easily ‘brought around’, when required.

And if you answered yes to more than 6 of the questions, you probably run a team where ‘anything goes’. It’s fun and great while all is going smoothly, but wait until something goes wrong. You need to change your approach and should request help in making the jump from peer to manager.

While the above paragraph is presented with a high dose of tongue-in-cheek, there is definitely an underlying message for those of you who love being liked by at least a few of your team members. When you are a leader, it’s far better to be respected than liked. People who respect you are more likely to have the level of professional trust and loyalty that is required to follow you, through good times and tough times. I am not advocating that you ever act unfriendly or cold – that disengages people completely. But a friendly, fair and decisive approach is essential to engendering respect.

As I always end up saying to my course participants, “If you do struggle with any elements of your leadership style, it is possible to change your patterns of behaviour.” I would never make such a statement if I had not had to do it myself.

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