Leader or Best Friend? It’s Tough To Be Both

I’ve helped many clients grapple with this dilemma – often once the pendulum has swung too much in one direction and they’re struggling to make their presence felt in the way they’d really like.

Leader or best friend? It's tough to be both

Learn to get the balance right by leading with impact

Connection and relationships are at the heart of what it means to be human; they’re also at the heart of what it means to be a successful leader, and to succeed in business generally.

Getting the balance right can be a challenge. Being overly-friendly and overly-sharing and you’ll lose your leadership edge, undermining the confidence others have in you and your ability to carry out your role. Be too cold and unapproachable and you’ll run the risk of  being tolerated, but not liked, and fail to bring others along with you on your leadership journey, which means your results will suffer. Getting the balance between strength and warmth is key, and can feel quite challenging for a leader to achieve.

Understand your Role

Know what you’re in post to achieve. Never lose sight of what you’ve been employed to do. How do you need to be for that to happen? I’m going to suggest that aiming to your team’s best friend isn’t going to achieve that.  Your team don’t need you to be their best friend. They need you to be friendly, approachable and open, which is a different thing entirely.

It pays to understand the relationship between warmth and strength.

In their book Compelling People, Neffinger and Kohut make the point that one of the constant tensions we have at work is between appearing strong and at the same time appearing warm towards others.

When we meet someone, one of the first things we look for is their intention towards us. We look to see how warm they are; does this person mean us any harm? A split second after that, we make a judgement about how strong they appear.

Are they good at what they do? Are they confident? And do they have the determination to make things happen?

The two are not mutually exclusive and do in fact complement each other. Being skilled at work (your strength) can lead to the respect and admiration of your colleagues (warmth). Conversely, being widely liked (warmth) can be a source of great strength if you can build a ‘tribe’ of supporters or fans of your work.

Amy Cuddy and Susan Fiske’s research at Harvard University revealed that this lens of strength and warmth was the one that people consistently used when making assessments of others.

They looked past everything else, including personality types, and based their judgment on what turned out to be four universal dimensions, reflecting the emotions that were evoked in others. These were fear/envy; admiration; contempt and pity.

Putting This Into Practice

I often ask clients to imagine that they have two dials: one is called Strength and one is called Warmth. When we dial up the Warmth to ten, and we dial down the Strength to zero, we can run the risk of being seen as too ‘nice’.

There’s nothing wrong with being nice – friendly, engaging and approachable –  (in fact the business world could probably do with more of it), but when it hampers the impact you want to achieve, then it’s not working in your favour. It’s about finding the balance.

If your dials are the other way round, with your Strength dial way up to ten, and your Warmth dial turned down to zero, then you may prompt fear in people.

The ideal approach as a leader is to balance your Warmth and Strength dials so you are liked, admired, trusted and respected at the same time – and yes, this can be a challenge, it’s true! I’ve written about the common challenges that leaders have and what you can do about them here

Your job ultimately may well be to help your team do their job brilliantly, and you can’t do that if your relationships are blurred. Being their best friend one minute, then having to deal with performance issues and deliver challenging messages is confusing and unfair. It also makes your job extremely tough. If you lose their respect, it can be very hard won again.

You can’t blow hot and cold. Consistency feels safe – people will need to know where they are with you.

If what you’re doing is working, great. If it’s not, and you’re a leader who is not getting the results you’d like to see, what might need to change? It could be that you may simply need to make some small tweaks to how you’re showing up, the language you use and how you’re behaving. You may want to take a look at how you can lead with impact

Susan Ritchie sepcialises in helping emerging leaders to make their presence felt and create more impactI’m Susan Ritchie, an author, leadership and executive coach and trainer. My second book, Strategies for Being Visible: 14 Profile-Raising Ideas for Emerging Female Leaders is now available as a paperback, an audiobook and for the Kindle reader.

If you’d like to be a better, stronger leader, and a happier, more fulfilling career, Click Here To Email Me