Why the "Friend Zone" can be a bad place for a leader to be...

Updated: Jul 16

Have you ever had a boss who is waaaaay to impersonal? Way too cold? Like, doesn't take time to connect on a personal level with anyone busy, and just doesn't really seem to care? It is a common occurrence, unfortunately.


Many who have been in that position swear that, when given a shot at leadership, they will be the exact opposite of that person. He swears he will be a personable, attentive, loving boss that always cares about his employees, much like a best friend would. He remembers this commitment so fiercely, they are really quite committed to it. Sounds good, right? This is especially prevalent in startups and small companies that have a tight knit culture and vibe.


Well... there's a downside. A serious downside, if you let that pendulum swing too far the other way.


You see, a boss who is too cold, and impersonal, and detached can fail to build trust and thus not lead effectively. But a boss who goes too far in trying to build trust can actually damage his/her own reputation and trust with others by entering the "friend zone".

I think of it like this:



The danger zone on the left side is obvious - that's the one we see frequently and try to correct. The danger zone on the right side (what I will call the "friend zone") is much less obvious, but in some ways almost equally as dangerous.


Imagine you are a boss, who in an effort to build camaraderie and trust (in addition to satisfying your own desire for something 'social' at work, to create a fun work environment) goes to lunch, hangs out after hours, invites others on some weekend activities like concerts, sporting events or other non-work activities. Harmless enough, right? Well, let's step back and take a look...


First point of concern: what does everyone else who wasn't invited think of this interaction? Safe to say they probably think you have your favorites, right? This can erode your own credibility and trust with the team - VERY quickly.


Second point of concern: what about those people that did go? They probably think they are on the "inside" now, right? They are in your "circle", right? So what happens when you need to correct their performance or don't grant them the promotion they feel they deserve or don't raise their pay enough...? I think it would a) be difficult for you, and b) be very difficult for you to do effectively.


These social opportunities seem great on the surface - to build culture and engagement, to make work fun, and to get to know people. But be careful! There's definitely a downside in letting the pendulum swing too far.


So what do I recommend? Shoot for the sweet spot near the middle - or maybe just a bit to the right of the midpoint. Examine your actions to make sure they all keep you close to that middle - not too cold, but not too friendly either. Find the right spot for you!


It takes focus and determination - but your leadership will be effective as you do! #buildtrust #avoidthefriendzone


Comment below - have you seen a boss navigate this balance effectively? Or perhaps seen a boss go WAY too far, in either direction?

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