Q. Having been a leader for a few years, I maintain a friendly relationship with my team. However, in the recent times, I find it a challenge to get them to take me seriously when work demands it. How can I strike a balance?
A. Modern management gurus tell us to keep the relationship with our employees less formal and maintain an open-door relationship with them. Some managers are even friendlier; they go out on weekends with their teams to bond with them outside the office.
Therefore in this era, the role of the leader is not only to lead and manage but also to advise, counsel, and befriend. But nobody gives us an indication where we should draw the line.
Leader VS Friend
If we choose to maintain a strict working-relationship with our staff, they might see us as a dictator. On the other hand, if we become more a friend rather than a leader, we risk losing influence on our team members.
And since every leader-team relationship is different, there is no right or wrong answer. The challenge then is simply where to draw your line. Easy to say, but difficult to do.
Inside the Office
Effective leaders know that they are there to make things work. There’s no use making all your employees your friends then having to do all the work yourself.
Therefore they live with this unspoken rule – when they’re in the office, they’ll remain professional.
This doesn’t mean that you shun your team member if he wishes to discuss a pressing personal problem affecting his performance; but try to keep to the important things. Do listen to him and give your advice if he needs.
They try to keep the communication mostly work-related, and are able to avoid spending too much time discussing personal issues like hobbies, families, weekends in the office. For example, if you happen to be a soccer fan, and your favorite soccer team just won the finals the night before, avoid discussing it in depth in the office.
If your team member brings it up again, finish it briefly, or if it’s something you wish to continue, tell him “I’d love to tell you more about it; shall we discuss it over lunch instead? I have to finish some important work and I don’t want to stay overtime doing it.”
This not only sends the message that you’re serious about your work, it also will push him to get his done on time.
Outside the Office
If you’re out of the office with team members during lunch break or after working hours, here’s the time to let yourself lose. Be their friend, talk about all other things except work.
But don’t go overboard, and let them lose respect for you, as they’ll still have to follow your lead from Monday morning.
In essence, always remember if you continue to discuss personal matters or issues at the workplace, your employees take the hint that you’re okay with being friendly at the office.
And this sets precedence for them. They now think of you as their ‘friend’ and not as their manager. This obviously will make it more difficult for them to take you seriously when it comes to work matters.
Good luck!Gulshan Harjani
This article was also published at The Jakarta Post – 12 January 2008