Team Leader, Team Player — Connected For Business Magazine

Boss or Buddy? – Four tips for sharpening the blurred line

By Robin Roberts

In most small businesses, the team leader is also a team player. For some, working shoulder to shoulder with their staff can sometimes blur the line between boss and buddy, leading to misunderstanding, miscommunication and, worse, a lack of respect for their role. The relationship between friends is equal; the relationship between manager and employee is not. Following are four tips to help you draw the line.

  1. Define Your Role

How you conduct yourself will set the tone for how people regard you. Maintain an appropriate formality and language; chit–chat and slang (and cursing) do not project authority. Being professional, however, doesn’t mean being cold or aloof; but a little distance can keep your staff from getting too chummy, and reminds them you’re in charge, always. The goal is not to grow a friendship, it’s to grow a company. Always be clear and direct about your relationship, your objectives and expectations.

  1. Jettison Jealousy

If you’ve been promoted to manager, your new position puts you behind certain barriers. “The biggest line that will divide you is the access to confidential company information,” says Carolyn Stern, head of Vancouver–based consulting and coaching firm Carolyn Stern & Associates. “You need to know what info you can and can’t share with the team,” and not let a former co–worker press you into divulging inside knowledge because you used to be equals.

Also, former peers may feel jealousy, resentment or betrayal at your new position. “Use the fact that you used to be one of them to your advantage,” says Stern. You know what the challenges of the job are, and can lower the hurdles. Ask for their input and advice so they feel valued. Let them know you’re invested in their own development and advancement.

  1. Socialize Without Compromise

At company parties or lunches, never over–imbibe, over–share, talk shop or be the last one to leave. Don’t socialize during off–hours; dancing on the table at a club on Saturday night will cost your respect at the staff meeting on Monday morning. Behaviour unbecoming of a boss could cause your employees to question your decisions, or distrust your judgment during performance reviews.

  1. Be Consistent

If you slide into buddy mode hoping to get cooperation and respect, the inconsistency and unpredictability will confuse your staff and harm your credibility. “You need to have thick skin,” says Stern. “Respect is earned, not given. Friends love you in good times, but respect gets you through good times and bad.” Friends can also compromise your ability to make tough decisions that will affect them.

Also, don’t play favourites (even if he or she used to be your best work friend), as that will only cause dissent, acrimony and suspicion among the rest of the team. Be fair and objective, and treat everyone the same.

As important as it is to maintain clear boundaries between supervisor and staff, you shouldn’t lose your sense of fun or flexibility, says Stern. “Just because you are a manager doesn’t mean you’re not human.” No one wants to work for a jerk. Care about and connect with your team, just do it at arm’s length.