Monday, October 1, 2012

Balancing The Friend/Supervisor Line

Congratulations!  You've been promoted!  Most of your work friends are happy for you ... until they realize you're now their boss.  You don't want to give up your friends, but you now have other priorities to address. They want to rag on the company ... but you're now part of the group they want to trash!  It's all so confusing.  So how do you walk that fine line between friend and supervisor.

The first thing to come to grips with is that you're going to lose some friends; it's just a given.  The ones you'll lose, though, will be the ones who were friends of convenience, those who only were friends because you were at the same level, all experiencing the same things together.  These are not friends who will be with you for life; they're more the ones you complain with, commiserate with, not the ones who ask you how your day is and truly want to know, those who care about you; the ones who care about you will stick with you no matter what.

The ones you lose are the ones who will be first in line to complain about you to others if you don't stick up for them when they're wrong, the ones who look for reasons that they should have been promoted before you and who just generally are negative.  Were they really friends to begin with?  You have to be willing to lose the negative to be an effective leader.

Regardless of how many friends you keep or lose, it's important to keep focused on the new job.  You've got a lot to learn and part of the learning process is coming to grips with a new priority - you now are in charge of putting company interests first and this can be difficult if you are still hanging on to people who aren't focused on the company.

So how do you turn your friends into great employees, supportive team members and cheerleaders for you as a new manager?  Here are some tips:


  • Establish your “leadership line,” the line across which those you’re now supervising cannot cross.  It’s ok to continue personal conversations from time to time, but establishing the “business” line is important, as you’re now accountable for and to everyone.  Your friend will have to understand your responsibility is to the company first, friends second, if a conflict arises between the two.
  • Remember that those you’re supervising are where you were not that long ago.  Don’t allow being promoted to go to your head; you’re just driving the bus now, where you used to be a passenger.
  • Continuing the bus metaphor, as the new driver of your particular departmental/team bus, you’re responsible for the well-being of all those riding with you, so take care of your team in terms of talking with them, getting to know where their pain points are and helping them grow, both as people and as employees.
  • Involve your friends in your plans.  Ensure they’re at the forefront of your cheering section by making them feel an important part of the process, whether they’re actually at that point or not.
  • If the time comes for conflict resolution with a friend, don’t automatically take the friend’s side; listen carefully to all sides and make a rational, impartial decision. 
  • Know that you could lose friends, especially those who are friends only because they want something from you now that you’re a supervisor.  You have to decide what’s more important to you:  friendship or your job; it will come down to that in some instances.
Remember that true friends, inside or outside the business world, are the ones who support you, want the best for you and don't judge you without knowing all the details.  The best friend you can be to your team is to do the same for each team member, while balancing the interests of the company as well ... a supportive team is a productive team, so encourage it as you move through your career.