What’s Your Leadership Style – Friend or Foe?

The fast track to a breakdown in the teacher-student or manager-team member relationship is incorrectly navigating one key factor: the authority/friendship balance. Allow me to illustrate:
I recently fell into a classic trap that you’ve undoubtedly fallen into before, kids or no kids. My kids wanted to jump on the trampoline but hadn’t finished their dinner or cleaned up their dishes. I stated flatly that they would need to finish cleaning up before they could go and jump to which came the reply (in whiny voices), “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy???” Rather than explain rationale for the hundredth time, I simply said, “Because I’m the boss. That’s why.”
We could debate the response, but that isn’t the point. In the moment, I relied on my positional authority to get something done and morale was crushed. Why? Because formal authority isn’t very effective for influencing people or getting long-term results. Relying on authority guarantees compliance and nothing more.
At work, my tactic is quite the opposite. I’m drawn to building relationships and my hope is that by investing in people things will get done. I genuinely care about others and in return I expect people to step up. This also doesn’t work, because friendship is not – and should not – be a means to some other end. At some point the friendship will have to take a backseat to the results and that creates tension.
Great leaders walk the line between being an authoritarian and being a friend. They are both and neither. Authoritarians get results but often do it at the expense of relationships. They lean on the inherent authority in their position to demand results and hold people accountable. Think of the classroom teacher who says, “Do it because I’m the teacher.” We shudder at the idea, and yet most of us have tried it at least once.
Leaders who are friends with their followers are typically driven by a deep need to be liked. They instinctually build close, personal relationships and find themselves willing to do almost anything to protect them, including not doing things that might challenge the relationship like holding others accountable or delivering difficult feedback. 
Getting the relationship right is the great challenge of management. There are three keys to make it work:

  1. Remember that friendship is not the goal – results are. Keep the relationship focused on results and message that constantly.
  2. You can still be compassionate, empathetic and interested in those you lead without driving toward friendship. People want to work with and for a human but don’t necessarily expect to be friends.
  3. There is simply no replacement for frank and ongoing discussions of roles, expectations, and consequences. Clarity is key! Focus on who is doing what and how you will deliver feedback and assess progress in order to produce results.

The greatest leaders are those who both compassionately care about people and drive toward results that benefit the common good, and it’s never too late to balance your relationships.
Want more on leadership? Try this post from Dustin.

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