Being boss when your friend is an employee

A few weeks ago my friend Justin Deweese asked me what I wish I would have known as a leader, when I was 27. Justin, here’s one thing I wish I would have known…

I wish I would have known how to be a boss to my friends in the work environment.

Throughout the course of my leadership experience I have had opportunity to work with some great people! Some were paid, some were not. We’ve had fun, worked hard, and seen some exciting results. Along the leadership journey I have embraced the idea that to be on the team you need to have:

  • character
  • competence
  • chemistry, and
  • commitment to the vision of the organization.

I have placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on the “chemistry” piece. I still believe that it is critical to like the people you are working with, particularly if they are in your immediate leadership circle. HOWEVER, I have often allowed my desire for chemistry (aka friendship) to keep me from doing the hard work of being boss. Often, I have chosen to be a buddy instead of being a boss.

What does “being boss” look like?

  • Share clear expectations for every employee right up front. This is particularly important if they are your friend! Let them know that your friendship will not give them special privileges or allow them to cut corners on performance matters. They will need to meet the expectations of their assigned role.
  • Assure that every employee consistently¬† meets those expectations. Bosses, good bosses, evaluate the progress of their employees towards their expected outcomes. You must do this for your friend like you would any other employee. If he/she is not performing as expected, you must put on your boss hat and say or do what you would say or do with any other employee.
  • Reward when they do, and having the difficult conversation when they don’t. Rewards are not better and consequences no more severe for your friend than anyone else would receive in the same position.

The bottom line is that if your friendship is more important than being boss, one of two things needs to happen:

  1. Your friend shouldn’t be working for you, or
  2. You shouldn’t be boss

Too many organizations, particularly churches, are suffering because the leader chooses to be buddy over boss.

If you’re the boss and your friend works for you… cherish that friendship, but don’t let it jeprodize the well-being of your organization!

One of the best resources I’ve found on this subject is Bruce Tulgan’s book, It’s Okay to be the Boss.

2 thoughts on “Being boss when your friend is an employee

  1. Great post! Here is where it broke down with my job as pastor.

    My direct hire, the Lead Pastor, is a friend of mine..he in fact married my wife an me.

    But two aspects weren’t in place.

    1. Clear expectations. Expectations were unspoken and therefore unknown or they constantly changed. It was like the goal posts constantly in motion.

    2. When expectations were met, no rewards. Only difficult conversations when those expectations weren’t met.

    Needless to say, without that good operating procedure in place, my role as Asst. Pastor, became in jeopardy and in conjunction with financial hardship of the church…I left on Nov. 30.

    So Paul, your words are wise and well founded!

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