We’ve all heard that it’s not good for a parent to try and be his child’s friend. Children need structure, rules, and boundaries, and peers don’t normally provide those.
Now, far be it for me to compare adult professionals in the workplace to children, but herein does lie a worthy analogy. Just like growing children need parents to act like parents, developing professionals in the workplace need their bosses to act like bosses.
A boss’ job is hard. The boss has to be responsible for his own work as well as that of his subordinates, plus he owes a duty to his subordinates (yes, you heard me right), the boss owes a duty to his subordinates, to provide direction, support, feedback, and resources.
In "The Most Overrated Trait of the Decade," Tim Gould writes that high-performing employees tend to have managers they respect. Unfortunately, however, some managers have apparently gotten the idea that respect is the same thing as “would like to have a beer with.”
Okay, I’m being a little facetious, but we’ve all witnessed the buddy boss in action. One way this boss acts more like a buddy is that he socializes heavily with staff outside the office, but that’s not the worst thing. The real problem is that the socializing outside the office affects the work inside the office and not in a way that benefits the organization or the other employees who don’t happen to be the boss’ buddy.
Buddies supply companionship, laughs, and a sympathetic ear in times of trouble. Everybody benefits from having a good buddy. However, being a buddy to your staff does not equate to being a good manager. While I don’t believe it’s impossible for an individual to be an effective boss and a friend to his subordinates, I believe it’s darn rare, and one thing I know for sure is that the manager is being paid to manage, and a buddy is a poor, poor substitute for a manager.
Being a good manager requires discipline, maturity, emotional intelligence, courage, and a healthy dose of compassion, because it takes all that to want to focus on what someone else needs and not just what you need. In an ideal world, of course, your employees’ wants and needs would align with yours, but we don’t live in an ideal world. In the real world, people who work together often have differing agendas, priorities, and motivations. The best managers realize this, take the time to discover those differences, make sure their employees know they values those differences, and work hard to use those differences to enhance performance to everyone’s benefit.
A boss who doesn’t provide opportunities for development, praise where earned, constructive criticism where needed, and advocacy is really missing out on the chance to be one of those great bosses employees talk about long after life and career changes have caused the employee and manager to part. If you’ve ever had a really fantastic boss, you know what I’m talking about. These are bosses you admire, because they’re technically competent but also possess many personal qualities that bring out the best in people again and again.
(And, let’s face it. Only a chump employee wants a buddy for a boss. The others want the manager to do his flippin’ job.)
Well, the good news is that some of the best bosses are born, but many more could be made. So, if you’re a boss under the mistaken impression that being a friend to your employees is the same as being a good boss, please reconsider. Because it’s not, and your employees as well as your boss are counting on you to know that.