Is Friendship A Leadership Quality?

If you had asked me ten years ago if “Friendship” was a Leadership Quality, I doubt I would have given it more than a second before declaring that it is not and should not be part of leadership.  In fact, being friends with people you work with can often cause more heartaches and headaches than it ever does any good.

However, this last week I discovered through personal experience that I believe that friendship is a quality of leadership that is rare and yet extremely powerful in professional relationships.  Before I share that experience, I would like to explore the concept of friendship, and hopefully bring you the reader with me in this personal discovery.


What is Friendship?

As defined by Wikipedia, Friendship is a form of interpersonal relationship generally considered to be closer than association.  The value that is found in friendships is often the result of a friend demonstrating the following on a consistent basis:

  • The tendency to desire what is best for the other
  • Sympathy and Empathy
  • Honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth, especially in terms of pointing out the perceived faults of one’s counterpart
  • Mutual understanding and compassion
  • Trust in one another”

Although I could have gone to a number of sources for a definition of friendship, I found this one particularly interesting as it could describe to your best friend and your manager.  Although we are quick to see the connections between best friends, how bad would this kind of relationship be if it were between the CEO and employees?


Leadership Qualities Worth Considering

“The tendency to desire what is best for the other” person is a win-win situation by which the employee is seeking to perform at the best possible rate to make the manager look good.  At the same time the manager is clearing a path and removing obstacles.

“Empathy” in the workplace is so often missing or is a one-way street, that can you imagine what would happen if more people could empathize with the issues, restrictions and conflicts that others are going through?  Sure the manager wins big when they can empathize with an employee, but think about how much less the typical employee needs to struggle with a new set of rules if they can empathize with management and their reasoning for implementation of new processes.

“Trust in one another” could build and repair so many bridges within an organization once developed.  There is more distrust in business relationships than in personal friendships.  How wonderful would it be if we trusted each other more at work?


Observing Friendship in Leadership

For the past five years I’ve been an independent performance consultant, trying to earn a living outside of an internal corporate environment.  Originally this was my choosing, but the poor economy kept me busy as most organizations seek to reduce full-time staff replacing them with contractors.  However, in the past year the work has been getting much more difficult to find.

I routinely keep in touch with a long list of contacts from past employment, and last week I received an email from a former boss who has also been struggling in the past year.  In response to an email I sent him a few weeks ago, he was telling me that he had turned a corner and was doing much better.  Like most people, he ended his email with“how is your business doing?”

For some odd reason, I like to think it was a combination of the above friendship qualities, I answered truthfully.  I really didn’t think much about it until I got a return email that just said – “Are you available for lunch?”

I read my email response again, and realized that I had bluntly said, “I’m not sure my talents are good enough to make this work” and now he wants to take me to lunch.  Oh great, this must be some kind of pity lunch for poor little me.


Lunch was the Ah Ha Moment!

So we set a date and time for lunch, and all along I’m wondering how to save face when I meet with this guy now that I let my guard down and told him I think I’m worthless.  I’ve always admired this guy, and although I never reported directly to him, I was one of his supporters as he rose to the rank of CEO.  So why on earth are we going to lunch?

Although we moved the date 3 times with his very busy schedule it seemed very important to him that we keep a lunch date on the calendar.   After the small talk was over, he looked at me and said he was sorry to hear I was having a “slow spot” in my work.  (That’s putting is mildly)  He went on to remind me of everything I had done for the company we had once worked together at and told me point-blank, “in all the companies I’ve worked for I’ve never seen anyone in the training role lead us like you did, it was like magic!”

I left that lunch feeling like a million bucks.  Did this guy really need to go out of his way to lift my spirits?  Not at all!  Yet, this gesture of friendship was to me more of a factor of his leadership abilities.  I mean, we are not buddies or pals, and this is the first social engagement I’ve ever had with him.  Yet, this single act and his reason behind it demonstrated leadership I will follow anywhere he wants to lead. 

[ Originally Posted August 2, 2011 at ]


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