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Are you friends with the people you work with?

What happens if one day you are no longer a teammate but instead become the boss? Transitioning from one of the team to practice manager is a big step that plenty of people have made – and it’s something many of us can struggle with.


A recent report
looked at how people manage promotion into a leadership role from within their workgroup, spotlighting the challenges they face and revealing the steps they can take to overcome them. The results could also apply if you have simply developed friendships over time with long-standing colleagues who report into you, leading to occasional difficult situations at work.

Overall, the problems facing leaders with pre-existing friendships can fall into two broad categories – concerns over people looking to take advantage of a friendship, and feeling uncomfortable being in a position of power over a friend.


Becoming the boss

Leaders may find their reports hope to get away with more or be able to ask for special favours. Issues noted in the report include:

  • Being taken seriously as a leader – feeling like people didn’t acknowledge their new responsibilities
  • Leave requests – friends often asking to leave work early
  • Friends appealing for personal support – dealing with non-work issues like relationship problems
  • Friends expecting “better” treatment – asking for favours and taking advantage

 

The need to show authority

Other managers can find it uncomfortable to shift from the role of friend to boss. Problems they may face include:

  • Confidentiality – being unable to share certain information and having friends ask about it
  • Discipline – having to pull friends aside to reprimand them
  • Giving directives – having to tell your friends what to do


How to resolve the issue?

As well as experiencing different types of psychological conflict, leaders also use different methods to resolve conflicts. The approach that different managers choose often depends on how they view themselves, how comfortable they feel juggling multiple roles, and how much of a problem a conflict is becoming.


Conflict resolution strategies

The way in which a person resolves discord depends both on the type of conflict and the person’s view of leadership - whether they saw themselves as “the boss”, whether they see leadership as “just a role”, or whether they don’t view themselves as a leader at all.

So what does that mean in practice? Here’s a breakdown of the five resolution strategies that were used most often by participants in the report:

  • Abdicating responsibility – either by appealing to authority (e.g. saying an order came from higher up and that they were just the messenger) or by focusing solely on the friendship and not embracing the leadership role
  • Using their friendship to improve their leadership – approaching a colleague as a friend and playing on that relationship to benefit the company (e.g. playing on an emotional response such as saying “you’re not going to let me down are you?”)
  • Establishing a divide – maintaining both the friendship and leadership role, but only allowing one to emerge at a time – they are usually seen as leader at work and friend outside work
  • Overlapping the leadership role and friendship at work – playing the “friend card” as well as being the boss
  • Ending the friendship – still being approachable and outgoing while at work but not being friends with those in the subordinate role



How we view ourselves as managers

When employees are promoted to leadership roles there is often a tendency to see them as a “leader” and not to see them as a “whole person”. But leaders and managers are not just the role they hold, as we well know. Feelings, emotions, irrational beliefs, and idiosyncrasies play a huge part – we’re all unique individuals.

Managers can’t shut off their human-side and because of that we can feel vulnerable and uncomfortable displaying power in front of their friends. We need to make sure we surround ourselves with the emotional and instrumental support to identify appropriate strategies to deal with these issues. Awareness of oneself as a leader, and as a person, is key.

 

Are you dealing with a tricky HR issue? First Practice Management members can contact us for support with their queries via our email helpline at hrhelp@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk


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