Can A Manager Be Your Friend?...I Think So

Could you handle being managed by a friend?

I’m sure it depends.

But practically speaking, everyday in an organization somewhere, someone is promoted to manage the team they used to be a part of. A startup hires a friend for the first time. Friendships develop after seven years on the job, and bam, you're now managing people who used to work next to you.

“No one wakes up in the morning to go to work with the hope that someone will manage us. We wake up in the morning and go to work with the hope that someone will lead us.”

- Bob Chapman

A great manager:

  1. Sees past who you are, seeing you for who you are becoming.

  2. Vested in the process of your development.

  3. Cares about your well-being.

  4. Listens to your concerns and asks how they can help.

  5. Is truthful with you.

  6. Encourages you and expresses appreciation in the relationship.

Aren't these also characteristics of a great friend? I’d say yes.

So...can a manager also be your friend?

Years ago, I worked as a server in fine dining concept with one of my closest friends. We’d have drinks together. We’d smoke cigars together. We spent a lot of time together as equals talking about our company, our jobs and life. We were close. On a day we didn't work together, our bromance would continue via day-long texting.

The most interesting thing? He was my boss.

When we walked into work, it was go time. I knew our relationship shifted. He would critique me, teach me, help me develop. Sometimes he would pull me into the office and run through a couple scenarios sharing how something could have been better handled or expressed. Even when he made decisions I didn’t agree with in the moment, I put my head down and respected his position. He was, after all, the boss.

But I respected him, probably in some part because I knew him. I knew he had good intentions. I knew he was constantly developing himself and studying wine, food, service, the tools of the trade. He hadn’t hit the cruise control in his career path. I saw the passion he had for what he did.

He was my friend and he was my boss.

Old school leadership may think this is nuts, but we both had the ability to respect each other and the organization. And, ultimately, customer experience benefited from our bond.

It can be hard to find a balance in these relationships. Here are four practical ways to tackle those complications:

  1. Show respect and respect will (eventually) be given.

  2. Never — ever — say, “because I'm the boss.“ If you have to say it, you aren't.

  3. Align with the natural leader. Someone has the influence. Make sure they know you're not going to try and steal it. You're going to align with them and understand the needs of the team.

  4. Don't lose your values. We can all understand failing. We struggle seeing someone give in and lose their way.

If you're a manager today, your time is limited. And although you cannot assess your team and cut out those who don’t fit all the elements you want, you can become the manager they want and need. It’s hard ass work. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s near impossible, but what’s the alternative? You have humans on your team who are saying:

I want my manager to be my friend.

I want my manager:

To care for me.

To look out for me.

To have challenging conversations with me.

To include me.

To share excitement with me.

To appreciate me.

To challenge me.

To prune and tweak me.

To challenge and develop themselves.

To bring our team together.

To give me work that excites

To give me work that engages the very best parts of me.

To try to understand me.

To simply be my friend.

Could you be my manager?

If you were, it would be hard work…

Would you be up to the challenge?

If you are that manager and you make an effort to do these things, we will go to battle with you, we’ll look out for you, we’ll stay late and come in early. All because we know you care.

If you’re my manager, care for me.

Then...I'll call you a friend.

Talk soon.


Joshua Schneider