The relationship with your employees: manager or friend?

September 21st, 2015

Lately, a manager’s role in a company came up in a few discussions, in different contexts. And too many times, especially when it comes to a discussion between people in management positions, one will lament about how he, the manager, doesn’t receive the kind of appreciation he would like to receive from an employee. It’s a trap I think most managers fall into at a given moment: How can I make myself liked (or even loved) by my employees, when I know for sure that there will be times for unpopular decisions, criticism and negative feedback, given that they are humans and, consequently, have failures, as all humans do?

How to explain to them that they must work harder, demand more from themselves, try to be better, and do all these exactly when they feel they have reached the limit, and then, still be seen as a friend? Particularly, when you need to take a fast decision, one there is barely time to communicate, let alone clarify, how do you explain someone, without causing distress, that this time they must trust your feeling and your experience even if, for them, it doesn’t make sense at the moment, even if it seems like the wrong decision, one they are forced to accept? How do I do all of this and be liked at the same time, like most of us wish they were?

Actually, the question is whether I choose to do what I know or feel is the right thing to do, or to spare people, tollerate mistakes and, this way, have more chances at being liked or loved. The answer is quite simple once you are perfectly aware of the reason behind what you are doing and if you understand your role entirely.

What is your role in relation to those people? You are a manager. What is a manager’s role? Is it to become loved? Surely not! A manager’s role can be to grow the company, to be effective, to make decisions, to take the business in a direction that can bring him, shareholders and employees more money or one that can make everyone more proud of what they do, or help them grow into true professionals in their field. A manger’s role will never be to become loved. Being loved is not one of a manager’s duties, it cannot be an objective, but merely a result of high quality management. And the faster we understand this the better.

Oh, you wanted to be liked?

Well then, maybe you should have become a comedian, not a manager. Maybe an actor or a musician? You’re looking for friends? You might find some among the people you are working with, it’s not impossible. But I wouldn’t count on it.

If I were to feel alone, I would look for friends outside my workspace. Because, believe it or not, the office cannot make up for all one’s life. And having the expectation from only a few people to fulfill all the needs you yourself don’t have time to fulfill, that is not only impossible, but also unfair.

Obviously, this is not an excuse to act disrespectfully, nor a way to justify deviant behaviors, common among plenty of managers. A management position does not exclude empathy, and human quality is important in any job or function. What I am saying is not that we should forget to be human, but that in management there will come a time when you will be forced to take hard, questioned decisions and you will not be able to please everyone.

And trying to do this only guarantees failure. Getting used to this idea might provide very helpful along the way.

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