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Boss to beers – How to Maintain Relationships When You are in Charge

3 min read

Recently, I ran a two-day session helping a group of leaders build Conflict Resolution skills. One discussion we had at depth was the problem of being the ‘boss’, and then trying to maintain a social relationship with the team.

One minute you are disciplining a team member, and then you are all going to lunch together or having Friday night drinks. Is everyone meant to pretend that nothing happened and put on a fake smile and laugh? Sounds icky… and it can be.

This is particularly difficult when you have been a part of the team and get promoted to Manager of the same team.

There are a few helpful perspectives to take in this situation.


It’s not you, it’s the problem

A common mistake is to allow things to get personal. When we get emotional about each other rather than directing our passion at the problem, we start heading towards destructive dialogue. When you as the leader continually direct the conversation to the problem and not the person themselves that you are unsatisfied with, there will be a mutual respect form no matter how robust the conversation is. As Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversation said, “a problem named is a problem solved.”

Happy is not the answer

The misconception is that a good performing team is a happy nice place where everyone agrees and gets along. In fact, culturally strong teams are highly engaged and energised where everyone is focused on solving problems to the best of their ability. There is a lot of truth telling and constant feedback. Gregg Popovich is the longest serving Basketball coach in Professional Basketball (San Antonio Spurs, NBA) and the current coach of the USA national team. He is also a volcano.

Popovich is an aggressive character from the outside, but has very tight and close relationships with his people. He is quoted as saying “you’ve gotta hug em and hold em.” He is constantly talking in their language, uses a lot of eye contact, and is a very tactile character. Popovich shows high care for his players and coaches, so when he explodes at them, they know it is coming from a place of purpose and passion for succeeding.

““you’ve gotta hug em and hold em.”

— Gregg Popovich

Own your spot

Often, we can feel that we have to be something different when we step into a Managerial role. All of the sudden I need to know everything and be very serious. This is the biggest load of garbage we could ever tell ourselves. The reason you are in this position is because you have proven that you are good at what you do. Now you need to perform in a new context, not be something you are not. Allowing Imposter Syndrome (see video) to take over is common but unhelpful. Digby Scott, the author of Change Makers gives some of his great tips in this article, Three Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome. Own your position and know you are there because you are brilliant. If you don’t believe that, give me a call and I’ll be happy to talk through all the reason you are excellent.

As leaders we can all feel a bit funny about correcting people and then going out for a drink with them. But, when you are clear, honest and purposeful there is a respect and trust that forms. This builds meaningful relationships much better than trying to be liked and popular.

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