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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: Can Your Boss Be Your Friend?
8-Feb-12 [ by Larry Chao ] 28827 Read and 1 Comment

In a recent CNN on-line business article‚ the question was asked: ?Should you make friends with the boss??

Kevin Roberts‚ CEO worldwide Saatchi & Saatchi answered yes‚ and likened the ideal boss and subordinate relationship as ?family-like.?


He went on to explain that families are caring and demanding and that families share many experiences that draw them close and enhance performance.


"There is no more performance-focused unit than a family‚" he said.  "We all work more productively when we are secure and happy."

I think this is true ? to a point.


We are living in an age of dramatic change and uncertainty.  Predicting the future based on trends‚ benchmarks or by connecting the dots is becoming more and more difficult to do.  The useful shelf life of long-term strategies is shrinking.  

Market shifts‚ natural disasters‚ political upheaval and other discontinuities can quickly render the most comprehensive plans irrelevant.  Witness the recent turmoil in the Middle East or the earthquake in Japan and the chaos that ensued.


People hate the resultant uncertainty change evokes.  Ongoing uncertainty creates stress and anxiety.  Now‚ more than ever‚ people are seeking solace and security.  Friendships in a warm family work culture provide such a refuge.


But don't be misled.  While a closely knit work culture builds trust‚ confidence and loyalty‚ there is a price to pay.


Contrary to what Love said‚ whether a family-like work culture promotes performance depends on its individual members.  Yes‚ families are demanding‚ according to Love‚ but if a family member chooses to be lazy or irresponsible‚ what are the consequences?  


In many cases‚ lax performance is grudgingly tolerated.  Rarely does a family member fire another family member.  Instead‚ the poor performer is underpinned with a more capable subordinate‚ or reshuffled into a less critical job.


So‚ treating your boss as a family member has its trade-offs.  How about treating your boss like your friend?  What are the pros and cons of doing this?


The article cites obvious positive reasons for doing this.  But these need to be discounted by practical realities.


On the positive side‚ if you admire your boss as a role model‚ then it is beneficial to seek a closer relationship.  Friendship enhances opportunities to mentor subordinates and fosters goodwill.

Developing a closer relationship with your boss might also give you an advantage when it comes to plum job promotions.  In this same way‚ it can also help you become more of "an insider‚" privy to key executive decisions.


Finally‚ being friends with your boss gives you a window to see how he manages work pressures and balances his personal life.  According to the article‚ understanding what makes your boss tick can help you manage upward.


These are all tangible benefits derived from a closer working relationship with the boss.  But there are certain situations where a boss subordinate friendship can do more harm than good.


For example‚ how much of a subordinate?s performance evaluation is determined by how much we like the person versus how well they do on the job?  When push comes to shove‚ it is natural for a boss to give his subordinate more than the benefit of the doubt to preserve the friendship.  


The same holds true for promotions.  Is it possible friendships influence whether an individual is promoted more than his competence?


On the flip side‚ it is difficult to reprimand a friend for bad performance.  When a boss has to choose between firing a subordinate‚ who is his friend and tolerating underperformance‚ more often than not‚ he chooses the latter at the expense of overall business performance.  Of course‚ there are exceptions to the rule‚ but not many.

I am all for healthy relationships between boss and subordinate.  The goal is to build trust and respect for others.  This is the cornerstone of collaboration and camaraderie‚ where people help each other to succeed.  If relationships becomes too close‚ however‚ the risk is friendship gets in the way of performance and the organization suffers.


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