7 Tips for Balancing Leadership and Friendship

A full-time employee’s primary portion of the business week and work-day hours spent awake are with people at work. Friendships are bound to develop, given the daily interaction. But how do managerial staff handle balancing leadership and friendship roles?

Friendship among coworkers boasts of being beneficial for mental wellness and stress tolerance. As the boss, though, there are rules to consider to assist in discerning how to separate work and friendship. 

Consider the following tips and examples on workplace friendships and understand their relevance in your circumstances. 

How To Be A Leader And Not A Friend

When you’re on the job, it’s vital to discern how to be a leader and not a friend. Balancing leadership and friendship on the job is not easy, but neither individual will benefit in their career without that separation. 

Employees who feel they can do no wrong will stagnate in their roles and be nonproductive. A leader catering to friends will be ineffective in their position. Consider these rules when working together in a leadership/friendship capacity.

When your friend is your manager, learn to display respect for their position

The work atmosphere should be pleasant and enjoyable. Having a manager who is also your friend will encourage that. It’s vital, however, to distinguish between the leader and the friend and respect the management aspect.

Work conversations should be generic. These should not involve something that would put your boss in an awkward position of having to report you. Professionalism should be adhered to during business hours, especially among fellow staff members.

Read More: How to Be a Leader When You’re Not Naturally One: Your Ultimate Guide

Balancing Leadership And Friendship

Maintaining friendships on the job site can improve your mental wellness and positively influence your career. A business leader or someone in a managerial or supervisory position needs to incorporate rules to avoid the potential for friendships at work problems. 

The guidelines you instill for the personal relationship from the professional one will be a task reserved for your leadership role. These duties will involve:

1. Establish adequate boundaries

You would naturally be more liberal with a friend on what you say or do than other staff. In a leadership role, that’s unacceptable. New boundaries must be established, ensuring confidentiality is maintained with all employees. 

Plus, if discussions with fellow team members are initiated, it’s up to the leader to steer the conversation in a professional and positive direction.

2. Avoiding a natural instinct for favoritism

Favoritism is not something people intend, but it is a natural instinct. Everyone has specific individuals they lean towards or are drawn to more so than others. That’s true of managers and supervisors. The critical factor is not letting it affect the work environment.

It’s vital to be considerate of everyone on the team. While you might want to select friends for specific projects a majority of the time, designating a system, so everyone has their moment to shine will ensure overall department morale.

3. Pay attention to the time

While you are the head of the department, the staff member you’re friends with reports to you. You can engage as friends when the two of you are “off the clock” for a break or lunchtime. It’s essential to watch the time to avoid going beyond those 20 minutes or an hour.

Other employees will start to notice the extra time off this employee is getting. Favoritism is frowned upon in the workplace. You don’t want to display this among your team. Morale and productivity will go down.

4. Practice Inclusivity

Balancing leadership and friendship can be challenging, with the likelihood that you’ll become closer with some staff more so than others. There’s a chance you will have employees you don’t know well at all. Perhaps, they keep to themselves.

It would be best if you managed professionally without allowing friendships to influence pertinent decisions. Sometimes, bring others into the discussion who are less likely to join voluntarily. 

Not only does that create a feeling of belonging for the whole staff, but it will encourage diverse opinions. Including more team members to join in on break time or lunches would be further beneficial. 

This would help establish a more unified work culture instead of allowing the opinion that you only interact with your friends.

5. Negativity has no place on the work front

As a manager, you have a role that requires you to remain neutral while in the work environment. When discussions arise about team members or projects known to have you tense, put a positive spin on it. Remember that your friend is also a part of your staff.

Unfortunately, anything you discuss with them could travel throughout the department, causing a problem for you. If there’s a problem with an employee that needs correcting, have the conversation with that staff member directly.

If a project is going poorly and you need assistance or direction, speak with your lead on how to proceed. A friend who reports to you is the last person you want to vent your frustrations and stressors to.

6. Remember that you work together

When you are off the clock, out having a good time, remember that you are the boss, and this is your staff member. You strive to be professional at the office, remembering not to be overtly friendly and instilling the rules as you would with every team member. 

While out with your friend in the evening or weekend, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that these same rules apply. That means carrying a little of that managerial mindset into the friendship. You can relax and allow a good time, but you still want to avoid talking about work.

You’re in charge in that environment, and your friend needs to respect that even during off hours. Complaining about work or talking about coworkers should be off-limits until you’re back in the professional environment and can deal with frustrations in a supervisory capacity.

Some friends might need help understanding having to separate the professional aspect of the relationship from the friendship. It’s essential to explain how these two aspects differ. Not all friendships will be able to survive when one of you becomes a business leader.

Sometimes a friend who finds themself reporting to their friend in a leadership position can’t handle the new terms placed on the friendship. 

7. Avoid being too harsh

While it’s important to avoid playing favorites among your friends at work, you also want to avoid going to the opposite end of that coin. No one should be treated harshly simply because they’re your friend. 

In some instances, it will prove to other staff members your loyalty to everyone if you push your friend harder than the other employees. Again, this establishes an imbalance between leadership and friendship, creating grounds for the friend to file a complaint against you.

You don’t want to put a friend in an awkward position by mistreating them because you have a personal relationship outside of work. Creating a hostile work environment for any employee goes against all company guidelines and can result in repercussions.

You must treat all staff equally whether you’re a friend of the staff member or don’t have a particular fondness for them. 

The workplace culture dictates that you, as the leader, must remain the neutral party. Anyone calling themself your friend must respect that position and you theirs. That will lead to a pleasant and enjoyable work environment for everyone.

Final Thought

Balancing Leadership and friendship can be a challenging task. Not all friendships can survive when someone is accepted into a leadership position where the other individual will report to them. 

Each person will need to have the utmost respect for the other learning to effectively keep their professional and personal lives separate. It will take a great deal of time and patience to get into the swing of what’s appropriate in each scenario. 

The primary consideration when your boss is also your friend is remembering that work conversations must remain in the office and be kept professional. All personal business will need to be handled off the clock. 

A friendship that has stood the test of time and endured will be able to balance leadership and friendship. The ideal manager will use their position and friendship to establish a culture of inclusivity and equality while avoiding leaning into favoritism. 

A genuine friend will appreciate being treated fairly as a staff member, so their work is recognized and they can progress in the company based on their true skill and talent.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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