Have you ever been asked that question? More importantly (at least for this post) have you ever had to ask that question of colleagues or direct reports? If you’ve been in a leadership or management role for any considerable length of time, chances are pretty good that you have. Or, that you have wanted to.
When I was a kid, I used to say things like, “Can’t you just be my friend?” to my parents. Their consistent response to me was that I already had enough friends – a not-so-subtle reminder that they were my parents and the buck stopped with them.
Now let’s shift the conversation to the workplace. It is natural for leaders to want to be liked (even loved) by the people who work for them. There are exceptions to this, of course. There are still some leaders that would rather be feared. That’s no way to lead – but that is a topic for another day.
Sometimes, in the course of wanting to be liked, some leaders fall into the trap of acting not like leaders, but like friends who don’t want to ruffle feathers or cause confrontation. I facilitate a lot of leadership development training and consultation and one of the most frequent questions that is asked of me is “how do you deal with an employee that has a bad attitude and doesn’t seem to want to work?” My answer to this, just like my parents’ answer to the “friend” question above is always the same. I instruct the questioner to meet privately with the employee and ask one simple but very direct question, “what’s the problem?” It’s certainly a blunt question. It requires a response. It gets directly to the point. It sends a message to the employee that you intend to hold them accountable for their behavior.
Why waste time and effort having multiple conversations with the same employees that seem to go nowhere? Why should you continue to look the other way with this employee because you don’t want to create a conflict or risk getting the employee upset? But these things happen all the time. As a leader, it’s up to you to stop the nonsense.
Here are a few reminders for leaders:
- In the workplace, you’re not their friend. You’re their boss. They already have enough friends.
- You are expected to hold people accountable for everything from their attitudes to their productivity to their ability and willingness to work with other people.
- You are paid to lead. Your primary responsibility is to get the job done.
- You are encouraged to care about the well-being of your employees, especially those that are struggling with their work. No one wants a boss that takes no interest in his or her development and aspirations. But this should never be done at the expense of other team members.
Speaking of Leadership, something ABSURD! Is coming! Stay tuned!