Why Being the Office BFF Doesn’t Work – And What to Do About It

New managers often struggle with old relationships at work.

I was doing a consulting assignment at a large international engineering firm. I was leading a group of first time managers through a Manager’s 101 program (not the name of it, but you get the idea).

Courtesy 123rf.com/Scott Griessel
Courtesy 123rf.com/Scott Griessel

This organization is full of very highly educated technical people; engineers, architects, sales execs, etc. Becoming a new manager there was daunting.

Traditionally, their managers were selected from within the company. If the old team leader was promoted up or moved over to a different project, the opening would be filled with someone from within. That strategy works well for a lot of reasons:

  1. Familiarity with the project
  2. Understanding of the existing team
  3. Client knowledge
  4. … and the list goes on.

As I began coaching this new wave of these “firsties”, it was actually stunning to me how hard it was for them to grasp the idea that they could no longer maintain the kind of working relationships they had with their old teammates. Those after work happy hours or poker games needed to stop.

The new responsibilities made it important for the manager to distance themselves from the rest of the crew. Why? Here are 3 key reasons.

1. Management and leadership requires objectivity. Favoritism usually cannot be tolerated. It interrupts any credible administration of personnel matters.

By maintaining old personal relationships with others at work, you compromise your objectivity. Even the smallest perception of favoritism impacts what you may be trying to do.

2. Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s an old saying but totally applicable. If you get too close to the people who work for you, you open the door for ridicule and back stabbing. People might undermine your efforts by telling others, “Oh, hey, I have an ‘in’ with the boss. We’ll be OK”.

3. Effective management should not be a popularity contest. As a manager you must not rely upon popularity to win your battles with those who report to you. Hint: you will never win at that.

Rather, you should be working at winning respect by performing your management duties with fairness, firmness, and effectiveness.

Effective management and leadership requires objectivity, unclouded by office friendships.

Question: How have you dealt with old friendships at work? Leave a comment below.

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