The Delicate Balance Between Likeability and Friendship

  1. Introduction
  2. The Delicate Balance Between Grace and Accountability
  3. The Delicate Balance Between Transparency and Confidentiality
  4. The Delicate Balance Between Likeability and Friendship

Most of us want to be liked. In general, if we’re leaders, people are more likely to trust and follow us if they like us. Being likeable does not necessarily mean we have to be friends with everyone, however.  There’s a difference between being friendly and being friends and between being personable and being personal.  Leaders must strike that delicate balance.

I have led many people and organizations in my career.  There were MANY people who directly reported to me or who worked within my organization who I came to know and like. I knew about their aging parents, their kids’ struggles or their latest challenges at home.  I knew about many of their hopes, goals and aspirations.  I also shared with them things about my personal life, but there was always an unspoken, unwritten boundary.  I didn’t share everything.

This boundary is difficult to identify and describe.  It’s the line between being “real” and being understanding and compassionate while maintaining a healthy boundary so you can do your job objectively and independently.  We’ve all seen circumstances where someone received preference because they were “someone’s friend”.  If that becomes the norm in an organization, employees can become disenchanted, because they feel powerless to influence outcomes in their career.

I always wanted people in my organization to know that I cared about them as individuals, and that I would be fair to all.  Caring about and being fair to your staff doesn’t mean going easy on themI had pretty high standards and expectations for my staff.  Here’s my best shot at describing how I attempted to balance the objectivity with friendship.

  1. I wanted to know about my employees as individuals.  I wanted to know about their families, their goals, their ambitions, their concerns.  I tried to be a listening ear, but I would not be the advisor to their personal situation.  Mentor for their careers: yes; problem solver for their personal lives: no.
  2. I drew pretty clear boundaries on how and when I socialized with work colleagues.  If it was someone over whom I’d have decision making authority, social outings were limited to business purposeful lunches or coffees, group gatherings, departmental parties or situation specific celebrations.  I did not choose to have my direct reports or my staff a part of my personal social life in general.  Not everyone does this, but that was my strategy.
  3. I supported the careers of those people who deserved it.  If I didn’t think someone was qualified, no matter how much I liked them, I did not go out of my way to support them.  For me, it was an issue of integrity.
  4. I didn’t take it personally if someone didn’t like me.  Well, at least that was the goal; maybe I didn’t get it perfect. The reality is that we all have to occasionally do business with or work with someone we don’t necessarily mesh with.  And as leaders, we have to make business decisions that require us to be objective.  One of the things I love about my coaching business is I no longer have to work with anyone I don’t like.  I LOVE my clients and I only take on people as clients about whom I have a good feeling.
  5. I kept my self-awareness antenna up on my relationships at work.  If I felt I was becoming too close to someone, I observed and monitored myself.  There are some people who we’re just bound to like more than others.  And the reality is, there is a level of friendship there.  Making sure I stayed within my boundaries helped me maintain a healthy distance with work colleagues, no matter how much I liked them.

The balance between likeability and friendship is tough.  We do business not with companies, but with people.  People like to do business with people they like.  As leaders of others, however, we have an incredible responsibility to put friendships aside and be fair and objective.

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Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge

Susan Hodge created Women Leading Together in order to provide one-on-one executive coaching, seminars, workshops, and coaching circles to help career women move forward to create fulfilling professional lives. Visit our website for upcoming programs, articles, and resources to advance your career.


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