Walking the Line Between Manager and Friend

One of my clients, Simon, was impressed by one of his young direct reports, Joe. Joe showed great potential during the first few years he worked for Simon. He stepped up to any challenge, went the extra mile, and garnered favor from Simon as time went on.

They spent more social time together, went to lunch, and shared their love for baseball. In short, their professional relationship also became a friendship.

Eventually Joe’s professional limitations caught up with him. His work became sloppy, he missed deadlines, and he became expert in making excuses. He hid behind his friendship with Simon to avoid accountability.

No one is saying that managers shouldn’t become friends with people who report to them. The challenge is how to handle situations such as the Simon and Joe example.

Simon was aware of Joe’s slipping performance, but basically ignored it because he thought Joe would rebound and resume his previously excellent performance. Joe manipulated Simon by making excuses and using him as a shield from others who caught on to what was going on.

Simon got caught in the conundrum of how to give authentic feedback in light of Joe’s diminishing performance. He held back because the friendship colored his duties as manager.

When a manager lets friendship overshadow managerial responsibilities, it’s a problem.

It diminishes the manager’s professional equity because his peers (and bosses) begin to view him as a pushover. It’s demoralizing to other employees, because they feel like the Joes of the world are being evaluated by a different standard.

Walk the line of friendship carefully. If anything, these relationships should be held to a higher standard. And if these employees aren’t successful over time, hold yourself to a higher standard and be prepared to make the tougher decisions.

Have a great day!​​​​​​

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