Can business leaders and employees be friends?

Can business leaders and employees be friends like these two colleagues fisting pumping?

Senior managers are expected to be more approachable and sociable with their staff than ever before – but can business leaders and employees be friends, and should they?

Mike Greatwood says yes to can business leaders and employees be friendsMike Greatwood is CEO of The Dream Manager Programme

They can, but there are other factors to consider, like how you define a friend. In my world it’s someone who supports you, listens and doesn’t judge, takes an interest in what you are doing, your hopes, dreams and aspirations. This should be possible within the context of an employee and manager relationship. The depth of a potential friendship is down to organisational culture. This dictates leadership behaviours and sets the levels of mutual trust, approachability and sociability to be expected.

No friendship can be maintained without this and boundaries need to be respected. Some people will disagree with this view because of the question: what happens when a leader becomes the bearer of bad news or has to discipline their employee? It’s tough but not insurmountable. The news may be harsh but longer term they will both acknowledge that it’s a) potentially outside their control and b) best for everyone to know.

Good leaders will be interested in what employees do outside of work as this will ensure better engagement. Leaders who take the time to know, care more and are invested in their employees’ successes. Content-rich group coaching sessions can achieve this and develop a better understanding of a colleague’s hopes, aspirations and dreams – when you understand those things you can foster deeper friendships. @DreamManagerEU

Jacqueline O'Donovan says no to can business leaders and employees be friendsJacqueline O’Donovan is managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal

Friendships are a difficult and complex aspect of the working life to navigate as a managing director. Over the years I have developed an opinion that an element of distance between myself and my team members is necessary, in order for a fair and unbiased workplace to grow.

Like any relationship, a boundary has to be established and this is key when considering a professional friendship. That is not to say that friendships at work are impossible, but they are very rare and I have often found that it takes more work to get right than a regular friendship might do.

I personally do not actively encourage them, as I believe that a relationship with your boss has to be a special one, and the majority of employees find that a hard concept to get to grips with. By becoming friends with someone at work, it is important to remember that your perspective of that person will naturally change, and you will consider the person you are friends with differently while in the workplace – we are only human.

As I have progressed within the company – and the business has grown – I have had gradually less ‘life’ time available to me, and therefore it is difficult to build a bond with anyone, let alone an employee. This has an undoubted effect on developing close friendships at work.


Jacqueline O’Donovan is a member of IoD Central London

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Director magazine

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1 comment

  1. Martin 8 August, 2016 at 09:03 Reply

    A new dimension has been added to this debate with the emergence of Facebook. The advice I give in the IoD social media workshops is not to ‘friend’ work colleagues on Facebook, especially those in more junior positions. Facebook friendships can create a host of problems in the event of work-based disputes. Keep Facebook for non work related friends and family and use LinkedIn for professional colleagues and contacts.

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