One of the biggest difficulties many bosses have is how to maintain a positive, encouraging and even friendly relationship with their employees, while still keeping intact the line between boss and employee. The key, as usual, is positive communication.
Beth from Michigan writes:
“Bob, my staff has been with my company as long as I have and, over the years, we have become friends. Now that I am overseeing them, I tend to be too nice when asking them to do something.
“I try to instill confidence in them and support them, but I feel it backfires when I ask for the same in return. How do I get them to respect my wishes in a tactful way without having to say, ‘Hey, I am the boss here.’?”
Beth, let me assure you this is an extremely common question, and I guarantee that many readers are right now thinking, “I could have written that letter.”
Back in the days when I actually had an office and a staff, this was at times a challenge for me, as well because I tended to get very close to my employees and develop friendships with them. It was also part of the joy of having my company, so unfriending them (which, I guess, before Facebook, was not actually a word) 🙂 wasn’t an option that I’d have chosen.
At the same time, it’s one of those human principles that, while familiarity might not necessarily breed contempt, it can — at times, — breed a bit of…well, over-familiarity.
Before I address your specific question, may I comment on one part of the question? You wrote, “I try to instill confidence in them and support them, but I feel it backfires when I ask for the same in return.” Please understand, it is not that instilling confidence and support backfires. It’s simply that they are not quite grasping the distinction between your friendship and your supervisory position. If you are leading effectively, then instilling confidence and supporting your troops is always a positive thing.
Here’s a quick suggestion: Write out your specific thoughts and challenges in detail. Then call a staff meeting. In this meeting, read them your letter. They must know and be aware of the situation and how it makes you feel. The key here is to do this with an “I-message” so that there is no sense of accusation being communicated.
In other words, rather than blaming, you’ll simply express how you feel. Then, ask for their thoughts and suggestions. Get their buy-in on the importance of handling this situation correctly. Of course, when all is said and done, they’ll need to know that, despite your friendship, you are their boss and they must act accordingly.
Best of success, Beth. I hope your team knows how fortunate they are to have you as a boss…and a friend.
Well, that’s my suggestion to Beth. What about yours? Have you ever been part of a similar challenge that was handled effectively? And, if so, please share your experience.