Why Bad Leaders Focus on Being Friends Before Leading

Why Bad Leaders Focus on Being Friends Before Leading

In the latest episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast, John Eades covers the difficult question, “should leaders be friends with their team members?”

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It’s human nature to want to be liked. While there is nothing wrong with this desire, it may be hurting your ability to lead others effectively. 

Take Susan, a young manager of a mid-sized company, for example. The friendships she formed with her team were real and included lunches, discussions about personal lives, and even after-work drinks.

While at first, these close relationships proved to bring the team success, the performance of the team quickly began to erode. The reason: Susan couldn’t turn off the “friend” label which made it extremely difficult to challenge, coach, and hold her team accountable.

There is a simple reason for this phenomenon. Leaders aren’t meant to just be friends, they are meant to elevate others by challenging them to reach the height of their potential.  But being a friend with someone on your team isn’t wrong.  Because a friend is simply a person who you know and you have a bond of mutual affection typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. The keywords here are a “bond of mutual affection.”

There is nothing wrong with being friends or “having a bond of mutual affection” with members of your team, but it just can’t affect your ability to lead them well.

If you are in a place as a leader where because of your friendships you have lost your ability to lead other people well here are a few ideas:

Admit the Mistake

“Authenticity and humility are so undervalued today,” Jordan Montgomery, a performance coach mused during a recent interview on the Follow My Lead Podcast. Leaders should be the first to take responsibility when things go wrong. The first step is to point the finger at yourself and admit you are in the “friend zone” because of your own actions and choices. When you do this, you create a true moment of humility and authenticity.

Once you admit the mistake, then it’s time to eat a case of humble pie in front of your team. Tell them you let them down as a leader and you want to rectify the situation.

Set Clear Standards

In order to level up, you have to define a new standard. A standard is simply defined as what good looks like. It’s not only your job to define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like moving forward.

The behavior of your team is going to default to the bar set. Be crystal clear, concise and focused. Limit yourself to as few as standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied. Have a clear standard about what type of effort is expected to be part of your team regardless of your personal relationship and mutual affection for each other.

Communicate the Standards

Ideally, leaders communicate standards when taking on a team or to individuals as they’re hired. But it’s not the case when a leader has fallen into the “friend zone.” Set up a specific one-on-one or in a group meeting, admit your mistake(s), and clearly communicate the new standards.  

Many leaders take a shortcut and just assume people should know the standards through some kind of osmosis. Don’t make this mistake, by being clear and setting up a specific time to communicate them.

Prepare to Be Tested

No one likes change and there is a high likelihood you will be met with resistance or downright defiance. Be prepared and willing to follow up and follow through.

I don’t pretend this to be easy. In fact, you will be tempted to default to your old way of leading. Leaders aren’t immune to resisting change, and the path of least resistance can be tempting. Reject this with all your heart, soul and mind. Remember it’s your job to elevate others and improve performance over a long period of time and it doesn’t happen by chance.

Get a Coach or Colleague to Help

If I am being honest, there is no way I would have written this 5 years ago, but I have never been more convinced that every leader in an organization should have someone to help improve their performance and hold them accountable.  I know you have the experience, but as strong and experienced as you may be, you and I don’t have all the answers.

Whether you believe that professional coaching will help you or not, the best coaches know how to open the hearts and minds of their clients to levels never imagined. This is the reason why I have coaches to help and we a coaching program for leaders at any level.

Elevate the Way You Lead: Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill. It was named the #1 Best New Management Books to Read by Book Authority. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead others.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.