Thursday, March 13, 2008

Leadership & Friendship

Leading a team or an organisation has plenty of challenges, one challenge being the difficult dynamics of leading friends or being led by a friend. Leaders must recognise that friendships within their leadership context, (friendships that existed prior to a leadership position or those that are built over time in a leadership team), will create dynamics that do not exist with those they lead that are not close friends. With wisdom these dynamics can be dealt with and friendships can grow and develop while at the same time leadership can flourish.

King Saul’s son Jonathan, (Crown Prince of Israel), and David, (shepherd boy and God’s chosen heir to the throne of Israel), had a friendship like brothers despite the vast gap in leadership position at the time (1 Samuel 18:1). Jesus we know was closest to the disciples Peter, James and John and had a friendship with them unlike that with the other disciples. In both cases leadership was not compromised because of friendship, nor was friendship compromised because of the leadership dynamics.

Leading Your Friends:

1. Don’t show favouritism.

When leading a group that contains a mix of your friends and of other great people who simply may not be close friends of yours, it is essential that you do not show favouritism. All opinions, thoughts, concerns and ideas are valid in a team setting not just those of your friends. Everyone on the team needs to feel included and to feel like they have an opportunity to contribute equally with those alongside them. Promotion as well as delegation of the not so pleasant tasks must be available to everyone and give to everyone. It is important not to show favouritism to your friends in order to help them with their own relationships with team mates and in order for you to maintain credibility with others on your team.

2. Know when to lead and when to be a friend.

John Maxwell in his book The 360 Degree Leader talks about the need for leaders to be able to juggle their different hats of responsibility carefully. Leaders often have multiple hats, different hats of authority, influence, position and responsibility. You have to wear the right hat at the right time. Leaders leading their friends have a hat of leadership and a hat of friendship, it is important that leaders learn to wear the right hat at the right time. Leaders, you don’t want to be wearing your leadership hat when you are hanging out with friends at the beach. They aren’t going to appreciate that so much. At the same time when you step into a leadership environment it is important to take your friendship hat off and be the leader you are called to be.

3. Be careful with social information.

Because you are a closer friend to some than to others on your team, you are privy to a lot more information about a friend than you are to others. You see them in a social setting when their guard is down, they are relaxed and under no pressure to perform as a leader. This is a privileged position and insight gained from a social context must be used with wisdom. I’m not suggesting that your leaders will be one thing in a leadership context and something completely different at a BBQ hang out, they just won’t have their game face on. Neither will you. Give grace and understand that all your other leaders are the same deal you just don’t get to hang out with them.

4. Keep healthy expectations.

It can be easy to have wrong expectations in regards to those that you lead. Expectations that are too high or too low. Expectations that are distorted because of your friendship. It is important to pause and reflect on the person you are dealing with and set healthy expectations for them in regards to the leadership context they function in. Disappointment and frustration are equal to the distance between expectation and reality.

Following a Friend:

1. Respect and honour them as a leader even though they are your friend.
2. Be mindful of context and interact with your leader/friend in a manner appropriate to context.
3. Give grace to your leader/friend. You see them in their leadership role and in the everyday normality of friendship. Leaders aren’t supermen or superwomen, just regular people with responsibilities.
4. Keep being their friend. Leaders need great friends as much as anyone else.

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