Striking the balance between manager and friend: Why you shouldn’t invite your direct reports to be in your fantasy football league

Finding the right balance between manager and friend is critical to identifying appropriate work relationships


Grace Tripathy , Thu 8 September 2022
It can be lonely at the top. Managers must make decisions, and there aren’t too many people they can turn to for advice. Some managers want to be the “cool boss” that is comfortable with anything (think Michael Scott hosting a meeting in the conference room). Other managers believe that there can’t be any cordiality between them and their direct reports.
 This article will explain how managers can determine what is appropriate and what is not regarding relationships with direct reports. It explains why boundaries are necessary, and how to maintain social distance from your direct reports while creating a positive work environment with open communication and feedback, which many teams struggle with.
How can you find the perfect balance in the friend-manager relationship? Should you even try?
 
The Need for Friendships at Work
Research shows that friendships at work lead to enhanced emotional well-being. It’s important to have relationships with people who you can trust. 
Sharing life events decreases anxiety, improves productivity, and satisfies our need for human connection.
Of course, this is the case for peer-to-peer friendships, not employee-manager relationships. The latter requires a much more delicate balancing act by both parties.
 
The Need for Boundaries
A peer-to-peer relationship is an equal one; at least it should be. In an ideal world, there are no power plays to be had, and the two parties can be relatively open with one another at a personal level. 
A manager, however, must maintain boundaries with direct reports because they have significant influence over the direct report's professional and financial status. And that's a game-changer.
It is really difficult to be in the same fantasy football league with a direct report that then has to be disciplined or potentially fired…talk about awkward if you are matched up against each other in the playoffs!
The manager’s role in the relationship is to promote teamwork and guide individuals in their careers. A manager-direct relationship that is too friendly can compromise this role and make effective management impossible. There would be an imbalance in the way that one employee is treated over another. 
Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candor and leadership expert, delves into the “problem” of joining a workplace and being told to be “professional,” as if every other aspect of you and your character stays at home, and you’re supposed to be strictly professional at work. 
            But that feels more robotic than realistic to the way people interact with each other. Professionalism training has been pounded into everyone’s heads since their first job. 
How can managers deal with the situation of being friendly with their employees, and also maintaining structured policies and professionalism in the workplace?
Scott relays the idea of “radical candor” as a guide to moving specific conversations between employees and managers to a better place. 
 
What is Radical Candor?
Radical Candor is a philosophy of management based on the concept of “caring personally” while “challenging directly.”
●       Practices to get, give and encourage guidance and feedback at work (praise and criticism) 
●       Strategies for building a cohesive team 
●       Tools to help you and your team get stuff done with less drama 
●       It’s not a license to act like a jerk 
●       It’s not an invitation to get creepily personal
●       It’s not just for managers, we all want to succeed 
 
Radical Candor is practiced at companies all around the world, including Amazon, The New York Times, Forbes, Qualtrics, The Wall Street Journal, and many more. 
 
Use the Radical Candor Framework to Guide Your Conversations 
Understanding what is not Radical Candor can help you better understand what is. These are the behaviors that everyone falls into at one time or another: 
 
●       Obnoxious Aggression: Obnoxious Aggression, also called brutal honesty or front stabbing, is what happens when you challenge someone directly, but don’t show you care about them personally. It’s praise that doesn’t feel sincere or criticism and feedback that isn’t delivered kindly.
●       Ruinous Empathy: Ruinous Empathy is what happens when you want to spare someone’s short-term feelings, so you don’t tell them something they need to know. You Care Personally, but fail to Challenge Directly. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good or criticism that is sugar-coated and unclear. Or simply silence. Ruinous Empathy may feel nice or safe, but is ultimately unhelpful and even damaging. This is a feedback fail.
●       Manipulative Insincerity: Manipulative Insincerity (backstabbing, political or passive-aggressive behavior) is what happens when you neither Care Personally nor Challenge Directly. It’s praise that is insincere, flattery to a person’s face, and harsh criticism behind their back. Often it’s a self-protective reaction to Obnoxious Aggression. This is the worst kind of feedback failure.
 
            These are the behaviors that people can accidentally fall into in the workplace. These categories make up “radical candor.” The goal of this is to share your humble opinions directly, rather than talking badly about people behind their backs. 
            In a nutshell, radical candor is the ability to challenge others directly and show that you care about them personally at the same time. If done correctly, it will help you and all the people you surround yourself with do the best work of your/their lives and build trusted relationships throughout your career.
            However, as a manager, it can be difficult to manage these workplace relationships; constantly tweaking your approach to find the sweet spot between friendship and professionalism with your team. 
            As you’re working through this, remember that it’s important to have an outlet for yourself.
 
Managers Need Their Own Support Network
It can be lonely at the top where there must be boundaries set for working relationships. So, it's wise for managers to find their own support networks within the company culture and outside. 
A mentor can be someone within or outside your organization who has the experience and can provide you with advice. A professional career coach can also give you impartial advice and an objective opinion.
One highly-rated professional mentorship program is the Ambition In Motion Executive Mastermind Group. The key part of this program is that your mentor acts as a source of guidance and coaching, customized to your individual needs.
 
What is executive coaching? 
Executive coaches work with business leaders to enable their rapid development in the workplace. They also assist with specific problems that a board member, or senior manager, wants to work through outside of the normal business framework. 
This coaching focuses very specifically on the issues that an executive wants to work through. Thus it becomes a speedy way to improve skills and achieve personal and professional objectives.
The executive coach gives the executive feedback and a new perspective that enables them to set goals and work towards them. The coaching sessions use objective feedback to drive the executive's thought processes forward through their issues.
 
            As a manager or executive, having a support system such as an executive mentor is crucial. Following the radical candor framework will guide your conversations within the workplace. But be aware of your own need for support and friendship in the work environment and make a conscious effort to seek them out in the appropriate places. 

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