The Leadership Dilemma: Managing Friends at Work
Addressing the Challenges of Managing Former Peers
You enjoyed many years with them. You shared laughter and tears. You had long, fruitful days together. They weren't just coworkers. You were friends.
You've earned a promotion, and everyone now reports to you. However, something seems off. At times, it even feels like they despise you.
This essay discusses how to manage personal relationships when work becomes a hindrance.
When you take charge, people's perception of you changes. They no longer see you as a friend. At best, they view you as their manager. At worst, they see you as their boss.
You can take three steps to prevent costly outcomes from this new situation. These steps will also help you maintain the strong relationship you've built over the past few years.
I must warn you. You won't like the third rule. But that doesn't matter. You must accept it and make it work.
Let’s get to it.
1/3. Set Clear Expectations
I love how Brené Brown puts it: “Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind.”
The conflict between you and your former peers, who now report directly to you, often comes from unclear expectations. They believe you're asking for one action but expect a different one from them.
Guess what? Now that you are in charge, you are accountable for that mismatch in the expectations, so you better get yourself together, pull up your sleeves, and set clear expectations.
Don't avoid tough conversations. Strive for utmost clarity with your team. Then, be strict about responsibility. One thing is worse than damaged personal ties: unproductive relationships.
You’ll quickly realize that the clearer you are with your expectations, the stronger your relationships with your team members will be.
2/3. Implement Compartments
You may have more than a professional bond with a team member. You could work out, fish, or be family or best friends.
In all of these cases, things can get awkward very quickly.
I suggest creating strong, purposeful compartments and treating them with utmost respect.
Don't discuss business on the tennis court. Also, when working, you don’t talk about tennis. As simple as that.
For over five years, I happened to directly report to my best friend (we had known each other for a long time, even before being colleagues). We both come from Italy, and the company where we worked together uses English as its main language.
Our rule was simple yet powerful: our business was conducted in Italian on Telegram, and work would always happen in English on Slack.
Because of these strict compartments, our friendship has never been in the way at work, and our job has never been in the way of our friendship.
And now, the third and most difficult aspect to figure out. The earlier you get a hold of this, the better your life is: