Friendly boss or Boss as a friend

A conversation over tea in office, where the topic of a colleague who always finds pride in saying she is friends with the boss, she hangs out to drink , dinner, party , shares stories etc with the manager. This made me ask, “do you want your boss as a friend?”. Immediately one of the colleagues said “Nooooooo” aloud. And others in the table echoed saying “we would be glad to have friendly boss, but we do not want to hang out like a friend, we like to look upto the boss”

My brain has been picking up instances and discussing this with various humans I know, work, friends, neighbours, college buddies, etc. Two types of surprising examples. A very successful person in an organization not much of a like-able person, very firm and gets into details and facts. He was not the best of ‘sweet’ people, straight forward yet completely an achiever. He delivers with quality and profit. When he moved to take up a new assignment, 4 of his team members pushed themselves hard to be part of his new project and team. “Heyy, but Mr X is such a tough person to work with, why do you want to move?”, other person asked and the answer was, “I have nicer people to stay happy and share my worries. Bosses like Mr X will bring the best out of you, you will be melted and moulded but there is a lot of learning and achievement when we work under him”.

A very similar context but the manager Mr Y was a friend, lovely human first and then a manager. He doesn’t push the team and ensured they had enough bandwidth. He was always very protective about his team members. People stayed in same roles for 5 to 6 years doing redundant work, but they had a peaceful work-life balance and they had so many nice moments of Friday biryani lunch with Mr Y and the entire team. Loads of team outing, trips, they hangout at his home for occasions. It appeared beautiful and inspiring, until Mr Y had to go for a different role and he tried pulling few people from the team. To everyone’s surprise, only one person was ready to move along. “When I have a problem in life, definitely Mr Y is my go to person and a shoulder to cry, but I need my resume to be built, I need to learn and take up challenges. It is too difficult to ask for release to sweet people like Mr Y so I never asked, but this is my oppurtunity to move”, was a comment.

Mapping this thought with 4 of my previous bosses : There are two of them I admire and consider as my mentors for many issues. Miss A was able to twist and tweak me to discover my potential. Miss B was the one who discovered the missing pieces in my skills and built them to make me complete. There are 2 bad examples. Miss C is someone I literally hate even now, I do not know how I survived almost two years, as there was no guidance, no friendship. I felt like I am into some heavy load carrying work, where I just come carry the load and go back. Miss E is not into hate-list but nor the like-list too. Miss E is not approchoable and where would you go for your problems if your boss has shut the doors.

On discussing with atleast 100 folks on this subject, I was able to put it into 4 below traits is what is required for a team member to survive and expect from the boss.

  1. Learning : Educate the team, be a subject matter expert who knows the domain , not the one who assigns task. Teach techniques, concepts, principles. Let them experience failures and learn through failures, but be part of the learning curve, not the failure. Teach disciplines that they will be part of their professional growth for ever.
  2. Kindness : We all know that work-life balance is a myth. You have to compromise one for the other sometime. Little manageable compromises. So, it is okay to be kind as and when the team member has to priotize personal priorities. While with the other 3 traits you help them become successful, this quality of kindness will make you as the leader who is part of their happiness. The difference between friendship and kindness is that when they come to you with a personal problem, just be kind and give the space. You need not necessarily be a friend to suggest solutions.
  3. Challenges : No soldier would be happy to wear a bullet-proof gun and sit inside a safety house feeling contented. So, a working professional ofcourse want to take up new assignments. In a recent conference, the one who sat near me said, “I wish I did some kind of challenging work like this, I should move to this industry, it sounds meaningful”. Give the right set of challenges that will improve their strengths. Important : don’t throw a soldier into a court room drama.
  4. Inspiration : One of the friends asked me, “can I survive with a boss who is not friendly ?- yes I can keep it professional. Can I survive with a boss who is not my role model and I don’t look Up to him? Ofcourse no. So, are you inspiring your team members is much important. I saw many boss -subordinate becoming close friends in the long association. But at any time, even after becoming close friends, the subordinate always carries the respect and considers the boss as role model.
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So what about friendly bosses? It is definitely an icing on the cake. Your team is very lucky if you are a friendly boss. But it is certainly not the bread of the cake. Mr D at work is not just an amaing boss but he is very friendly. That makes his presence create positive vibes all around. But we all admire him for being the perfect mix of the above 4 traits he carries.

If you are a team member, I am sure you would have prepared a report card about your boss based on above 4+1 traits. Ideally, if you are a leader, prepare one, validate. And change the telescope to focus right. Cheers!

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