Career Woman

How to be friends with your boss

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How good is it to hang out with friends! The time passes quickly, your endorphins flow and overall you feel better. In fact, one study suggests that friends may extend your life. “People who have strong social relationships are less likely to die prematurely than people who are isolated. In fact, the effect of social ties on life span is twice as strong as that of exercising, and equivalent to that of quitting smoking”.

So, it makes sense to be friends with the people you work with, particularly given how much time you spend with them – and this extends to being friends with your boss! 

By definition a friend is a person who has a bond of mutual affection for another person. It is ‘mutual affection’ that is significant for this topic as it implies the relationship is two-way. So before even considering ‘how’ to be friends with your boss it might be helpful to ask yourself whether you even like your boss to begin with? If there is no affection, then trying to become friends with them is likely to be a wasted effort. 

Second to this, some leaders, in the early stages of their people management journey, may believe that being friends with their staff is taboo – so be prepared that they may not be willing to engage in a ‘friendship’ regardless of how much affection they have for you. These leaders often believe that there is a relationship ‘line’ that should never be crossed, unless they’re prepared to be taken advantage of, or have their authority undermined! In my experience and through the work I’ve done with hundreds of leaders I can confidently say that this theory is outdated in most workplaces. It isn’t authority or control that delivers sustainable results today – it’s a leader’s ability to influence and inspire their people.

Damien Hardwick, AFL coach for Richmond, has demonstrated this over the past few years. In the early stages of his coaching career he attracted a lot of criticism for “over-coaching” and lacked authenticity as a leader. Today he has embraced his vulnerabilities and is really open with his team. In an article published in The Age, defender, Nick Vlastuin shares the differences he has seen in his coach, “in previous years we’ve been told what to do but this year he’s stood back and not taken control. He gave the players a voice. He’s been unreal.” 

It’s a comforting shift to see leaders who are becoming more aware of the role they play. Leadership today is based around relationships, so don’t give up on trying to be friends with your boss, just be patient, they’ll get there eventually.

Now, if you like your boss and want to invest in a friendship, there’s five things you can do to speed up the mutual affection and for the most part, they’re make a lot of sense.

  1. Make their life easy – Anticipate what your boss might need and offer support before they ask! Then continue to do these things without being asked.
  2. Make them look good – Be curious about what success looks like for your boss and align your own successes with theirs. Be mindful not to do anything that may reflect poorly on their ability to lead.
  3. Seek feedback & control your own development – Ask your boss for feedback about how you can improve in your role and take the lead on your own development plans. Also, be willing to give them feedback if they ask for it but based it on evidence and observation rather that opinion and assumption.
  4. Communicate regularly – Have ongoing conversations about what’s working well and what could be done differently and avoid making assumptions when you’re not clear. Ensure you communicate in a way that is easy for your boss to absorb. For example, if you have an impatient boss then condense your message into a few headline statements.
  5. Take an interest in them as people – Take notice of what your boss does outside of work and become curious about who they are as people. Often, when we don’t like a person it’s because we don’t understand them. The more you understand, the easier it will be to like them and relate to what’s important in their life.

Some of my greatest friends were once my bosses and I made a point of applying these points, all with great success. I am forever grateful for the lessons I learnt with each boss. Never did they avoid holding me accountable for my commitments and the more open and honest our conversations were the stronger our friendship became. It is friendship that builds deep trust and its trust that impacts success, both of the individual and the business. 

So, be open to developing friendships with your boss and remember that every boss is a person and just as imperfect as you so be kind!

About Shelley Flett

shelleyf@thebusinesswomanmedia.com'

Shelley Flett is an expert in leadership development and team performance, with over a decade of experience in operations and call centres across banking and telecommunications. She is focused on maximising efficiency and building high performance team cultures. Shelley is the Author of ‘The Dynamic Leader: Become the leader others are inspired to follow’ (Major Street Publishing $29.95). For more information about how Shelley can help your leaders visit www.shelleyflett.com

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