Becoming a Leader Today – Can you have friends in the team?

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It is remarkable that most of our metaphors for leadership seem to come from the battlefield.  Well I suppose, when you think about it, it isn’t that surprising.  After all, that is where it all started with leading the tribe and then leading the army!

Doesn’t it sound confrontational?

So what about modern leadership with its concept of servant leadership and leadership as a dialogue?  Thinking about that led me into thinking about leadership and friendship more generally (no pun intended).

Many moons ago when I started to manage people – in those days you heard little of leadership in the workplace – you were warned not to try to be friends with the people you managed.  Even at quite junior levels in the Civil Service, you were expected to forego the friendships you had already, if they were with members of the team you were to manage, on promotion.

Certainly, personal friendship can make both managing and leading more difficult.

As for closer personal relationships well that can be a minefield.  But, remember, in many small businesses, husband and wife teams work together successfully alongside other family members.

I have found myself managing and being managed by friends.  Also, I have been in teams led by friends and have had friends in teams that I have led. Honestly, I can’t remember it causing much of a problem for me and for my friends; apart from the loss of the odd lunch where we would have shared confidences.  But, in truth, I can see the potential for others to feel threatened by the relationship we had.

I looked up various dictionary definitions of friendship – one had a statement about “mutual trust and support”. Now, therein, may be a potential problem.

I wonder if relationships can be truly mutually supportive, when one party is in a position of power over the other.  Surely, even when the leader is fully committed to servant leadership, there is something of an in balance of power between the leader and the led – the degree depending on the circumstances.

In my own experience, the friendship survived the leadership experience but sometimes it did take maturity and judgment.

I suspect friendship works much better when goodwill exists between the leader and all members of the team.  In those circumstances, trust and support are part of the culture and all feel its benefits.

But, if you do find yourself with personal friends in teams you lead, I would recommend an early discussion with the friends about the ground rules.  I believe you need to be completely honest about how you intend to play it.

I believe, as well, that it is better to let other people in the team know from you that you are friends.  If you don’t tell them, you can guarantee they will find out at some point later and feel betrayed.

In any case you will need to reassure all that there will be no favouritism and, my word, you will need to make sure you don’t show it.

I hope you are blessed understanding friends and an even more understanding team!

Have you ‘led’ friends or been ‘led’ by them?  Please send me your comments on your experience.
I am Wendy Mason and I work as a personal and business coach, consultant and blogger.  I have worked with many different kinds of people going through personal  and career change. If you would like my help, please email me at or ring ++44(0)2084610114 or ++44(0)7867681439.  I will be very pleased to hear from you. I offer half an hour’s free telephone coaching to readers of this blog who quote WW1 – email me to arrange.

  • Becoming a Leader Today – Manifesto for a Servant Leader (

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