Are Work Friendships Acceptable Between a CEO and Employees

Dear Office Mom,

Is it possible to be both a CEO and a friend to your employees?
— Max

Dear Max,

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Yes, of course, it’s possible to be friends with employees, but I suppose the answer depends on how you define this friendship. Likely it won’t be (or shouldn’t be) as familiar and open as other friendships, but it’s possible if you set and maintain clear boundaries. In my experience, team members appreciate and respect that.

For example, I may be the cool office mom (who is also a director) and have great relationships with my direct reports, but I’m still aware that I’m not twenty-something, and I need to dress for my age and act it. I may go to lunch with work friends, or go out for drinks after work, but no one is going to need to pick me up and put me in an Uber. I may know a lot about my reports, and vice versa, but I won’t be sharing their stories, or the details of my broken marriage or the reasons my family puts the “fun” in dysfunctional. I may be privy to a global reorganization, or which positions are being eliminated next quarter, but they won’t hear it from me until I’m allowed to discuss it. It’s a fine line, and I do not cross it.

So, the point is, regardless of your title, you’re still the leader. You are a role model, and as such, you dictate what happens to these team members in fundamental ways like salary, reviews, promotions, workload equity, project assignments, and terminations. You can never take this lightly, so there have to be boundaries.

These friendships will not be as open as the relationships you have with others, but that doesn’t lessen their importance. To make it work, you need to be guarded when speaking about business plans, problems, or money woes so as not to add unnecessary stress on the team. You need to be aware of how your behavior and the remarks you make offhandedly might send mixed signals or give others the wrong impression. You need to be mindful of who you are and the power you have over others and their livelihoods. And, last but not least, you need to value confidentiality, both theirs and yours.

I hope this helps!



Originally posted on Quora