When the Boss is Your Friend
How well do you know your boss? How tight are you with him or her? Tight enough to write a profile for this person on a dating web site?
I hope alarm bells went off on that last question. The situation, however, was real as spelled out in the Fast Company article, Why Becoming Friends with Your Boss Might Be a Terrible Idea. And it’s one of several “uncomfortable” requests made by bosses to employees with whom they were developing a close relationship.
Several of the stories cited shared the pressure felt when the boss would make a request that exceeded sensible boundaries. Another found that the boss confided inappropriate information about an extramarital relationship he had. The more basic concern was the pressure from a manger to go “have drinks” after work with the team after a long week. A bad idea if the team wants to go home or has other commitments.
Consistent in the theme of submission was concern over losing the job or promotion. Treatment for resistance to these requests would vary, of course. But it opens up the wider discussion of benefits and dangers of these friendships.
On the benefits side, friendships with team members and management makes a for a positive work environment. Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “If you are closely connected to someone at a higher level in the organization, they may be able to promote you, spread your reputation, [or] provide you with access to information that is useful.” All potentially on the plus side.
Other significant and complex issues can and do arise. In one of my previous assignments, the head of the organization found our mutual interest in politics and social issues made for good discussion over lunch. Another valued my input on marketing and business related issues. However, those immediately above me on the flow chart would sometimes feel stepped-over, and be curious as to the discussions we had.
A second case involved the head of the company where I worked, who would involve me in discussions outside of our mission. I found those talks stimulating. But one had to be very careful not to repeat this kind of information to coworkers in a less than guarded moment.
A third example came from a boss who became a friend and was a significant influence in my life. When we decided to part company, it became quite uncomfortable. It took a few years to rebuild the friendship.
If you find yourself in a situation where the boss is leading into a discussion topic that is displeasing to you, the suggestion is to just say “no.” Explain that you don’t want to talk about the topic. Repeated rejections on this front should send the message.
The boss who extends friendship to you is generally a good thing. But remember what the Bible says about genuine friendship:
A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.
Proverbs 17:7, TLB. A good friend will not create barriers to friendship or use their position to threaten.
One sure red flag: if the boss starts asking you for money.
Originally published on The Way WE Work.