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Love Is Never Having to Say, ‘You’re Fired’… Or Is It?

But maybe love isn’t the right word; let’s try respect

Image by Peopleimages by Getty Images Signature, edited by Author

I have a good friend who is a senior manager with many years of supervisory experience. She recently took on a new position as one of the top people in the organization. So I was surprised when she said, “I don’t care if my employees like me. I just demand the best from them.”

I am also good friends with another individual who is also high up in a company. He told me, “You know, my employees just love me. I’m good friends with all of them!” He went on to describe the company parties he held, the “informal get-togethers” with his staff, and how they all knew everyone’s families, etc.

My friends are not only at opposite extremes, but they are also wrong. They are incorrect in their assumptions, their beliefs, and their goals. Let me explain why I feel this way, and maybe you’ll agree. Maybe you won’t, but it will give you plenty to consider.

From one extreme

First, let’s talk about the “I don’t care about my employee’s feelings toward me” line. You’re a liar. Whoops, sorry, I didn’t mean to be politically incorrect. Let’s just say, “You’re fooling yourself.” You DO care — everyone cares — about what people close to them truly think of them. Of course, you do! It’s a normal human emotion.

Yes, I understand you “don’t care what others think of you” but you DO care about the perceptions and feelings of those close to you — and who’s closer to you than family, friends and coworkers? I once saw a calculation that said we spend close to one third of our life at work. That means LOTS of time spent around our coworkers, including managers, peers, and those under our supervision.

WOW. That’s a lot of time around people who may not like you. It’s one thing to say “I’m not here to be loved” (Confession: I used to say, “I’m not here to be loved, I’m here to be respected”; that was also ridiculous), but you should be understanding, caring, sympathetic and, well, involved (to a point — more on that, later on).

A manager who “demands the best from their employees” has to be concerned about what those employees think of them. After all, who wants to work for someone they don’t like? And if you truly don’t like someone, can you honestly respect them? Will you want to do your best for them? I don’t think so. I’ve seen this type of attitude in practice, and it usually results in dissatisfaction, turnover, and trouble.

To the other

So what about the other extreme? Do you feel the need for your employees to “love” you? Can you actually be “good friends” with employees? Some people do feel the need to be cared about and they want to be considered as close confidants of their subordinates. (OK, I know nobody likes that term, but it is what it is. We all report to someone.)

I’ve met many managers who were bothered by the fact a particular current or past employee didn’t like them or wouldn’t confide in them. Is that really what you need? The answer is “No, you don’t.” This is the phrase best used to describe employer-to-employee relations: “You can be friendly with your employees but you can’t be friends.”

Before you scream in protest, let me explain:

Managers should not have a contentious relationship with staff. Again, that leads to trouble, turnover, and other problems. Yes, you should play nice with others at work. If you can’t do that, how will you work together as a team? If you can’t speak candidly with your coworkers, the workplace becomes ripe for miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Being “friendly” with those you work with means being considerate; being a good listener; being empathetic to their opinions and feelings. Friendly people respect each other and try to support each other; that makes a desirable atmosphere on the job.

Friendly, not friends

However, carrying it further can lead to difficulty. Here’s an example: For my first management job, I was promoted from within, as was a coworker of mine. I looked for a mentor and found one in my boss. He was fair, he was honest, and he was willing to take time to advise me. I always remember walking into his office and saying, “Boss, we have a problem!” and he would answer, “No, YOU have an opportunity to show me how great you are!” HA!

But I digress. The real point is my coworker who was promoted. Only about a month after he moved up to management, he started having difficulties with one particular employee. This employee was habitually late in the morning, would take long lunch hours, and would leave early. When my friend (let’s call him “Steve”) finally called in the tardy employee to have a chat, the employee immediately went on the offense:

“Listen, Steve, you can’t do anything about my performance,” the employee said. “Remember when we went out drinking after the Christmas party, and you got trashed and said all that stuff about the other workers? Remember when you and I went to that convention for work, and we took off from the sessions to go play golf and go to the casinos on company time? Remember when…” and on and on it went.

Steve was mortified and went to the big boss for help — but he was told to “just handle it.” The issue was resolved eventually, but in the end, Steve was never promoted again after the tardy employee was terminated (and there were anonymous letters, etc. It was ugly). You can bet Steve was never “casual” around employees again.

Be forward thinking

So what’s the deal there? I believe it reflects on what I said, previously: “You can be friendly but you can’t be friends.” Sure, I’ve gone out after work with my employees; I’ve had them over to my house for parties; I’ve traveled with some of them, I’ve met the spouses and families of many of my employees. I’ve listened to some employees as they pour their hearts out with personal issues, seeking my advice and sometimes just wanting someone to talk to.

BUT, as a manager, I’ve also been careful to follow HR guidelines and I’ve always made sure all my employees knew there was a “limit” and that, regardless of the friendliness of our relationship, I was still holding myself accountable to what the company expected of me as management.

This may not go over so well in today’s world. People are more casual, and more involved with other’s lives. We learn a lot from “friending” and connecting with people on social media. (That’s an entirely different topic, which I will cover in a different blog.)

Here’s the deal with Steve that I didn’t tell you. Those incidents his employee pointed to as, well, blackmail? They didn’t happen when Steve was in management. They happened before he was promoted. Steve and this employee were in the same position when he talked trash about coworkers and went golfing and gambling on company time.

Had Steve looked toward his future goals with the company and considered that he might end up managing this “friend” and coworker, he might have restrained himself.

Plan for the role you hope to have

Steve should have behaved like the leader he hoped to be one day. (We all should.) I don’t mean just the “you can be friendly not friends” mantra. I mean you should behave honorably — as if your future employees were watching. (They might be.)

One of my former colleagues had an old Buick that had seen much better days. The windshield was cracked, the horn didn’t work, the electric side windows didn’t work, and the engine wasn’t reliable. But by golly, she cleaned it! It was pristine inside and outside, and when I asked her why she bothered she said, “I’m treating this car like the car I want to have.”

This young lady was building habits, practicing behaviors she would do automatically when she had a car worthy of such attention. I’m sure Steve wished he had practiced better behavior as a coworker so he might have started his management career with a faithful follower instead of an employee who could hold his sketchy past against him.

So, in addition to being friendly, not friends in your manager/employee relations, behave in a manner that deserves respect no matter what position you’re currently doing. Trust me. It’s solid advice.

Which of us knows when we might be promoted and then have to supervise the same people we worked side-by-side with for years? It changes one’s perspective rapidly — and it can open us up to unfair criticism. (Or fair criticism, actually.)

Your takeaway

So, be friendly. Be liked. Be respected. Be consistent. Be understanding. But beware of being casual, overly informal, and personal, and don’t expect to be “loved” — it can lead to trouble and disappointment.

It’s tough out there in the working world, and we spend a lot of time at work with our coworkers. Why can’t we all just get along?

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on August 31, 2021.

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