The Value of Friendships at Work

The Value of Friendships at Work

Personal and Career Development: The Value of Friendships at Work

Advice from Wendy Smith; Career Coach and author of The WiseWolf Job Search Pocket Book – order on Amazon

The Value of Friendships at Work – yesterday I had lunch with friends that I made at work more than 30 years ago. Meeting them led me to meditate on how important friendship can be in supporting you through the difficult times in your career.

I met those particular friends when they were fresh from university: now, they are on the verge of retirement.

We were part of a cohort of young Civil Servants setting out on an intense, month-long,  course in Economics. I don’t know how much of it we retained for use in our later careers but the friendship has certainly stood the test of the years.

I don’t know what bound us together so strongly as a group beyond our variety – we a had nice mix of art, science and scepticism, in youth. The scepticism has mellowed with the years like our competitiveness.

I know that their friendship, and that of another former colleague, has been important to me in a life which has had more discontinuities than most.

Certainly, friendship has been one of the things that has sustained me through difficult patches at work.

The ability to talk in confidence to someone you trust, who understands what you do, can help you get through hard times in one piece. A true friend’s on-going respect for you, and what you stand for, can help keep your self-esteem and confidence in tact through a storm.


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

If you find yourself with personal friends in teams you lead, I would recommend an early discussion with the friend about the ground rules. I believe you need to be completely honest about how you intend to play it. Reassure others there will be no favouritism and, my word, you will need to make sure you don’t show it.

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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 (

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

I’ve been watching the debate about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn with interest – mainly because I’m an avid user of the first and last.  But I do use Facebook too.  I like a comment that Facebook is about the past, Twitter is about the present and LinkedIn about the future!

Facebook is good for finding old friends and relatives – finding old school friends etc.  Although I suppose if you are over forty you are more likely to use Friends Re-United, but the concept still holds good.

Twitter when its good is very much about the present, what I’m doing now, what we are doing now or what the world is doing now. No one is interested in what you said yesterday – it’s lost out there in the clouds somewhere.

LinkedIn at the end of the day is about future work and business opportunities; even the group comments and debates have an edge to them which is around building your image as a potential employee or business partner – there aren’t many jokes! Increasingly Facebook and Twitter are about marketing but that is different from the professional focus of LinkedIn.

You can, of course, use all three  for finding old and potential new friends and for keeping in touch.  Personal and business email addresses change but many people make sure they update their email address on LinkedIn, for example.  But friendship depends upon some degree of self exposure and for me that is the trouble with Facebook.  Facebook becomes interesting when you give just a little too much of yourself away – the tag on the photo at the office party from hell, for example.  I keep up my Facebook account but it has got real potential to make me squirm and I have joined some rather odd groups in my time on the spur of the moment.  I’ve not got round to leaving them cos its all too complicated.  LinkedIn should keep you on the professional straight and narrow on the disclosure front, so you may make business contacts but I’m not convinced you will make many friends.

Oddly enough although I’m fairly new to Twitter I have a feeling that it probably has the strongest case in terms of making on-line friends.  There is a limit to how much you can expose to the world in a relatively short message and although a picture will build up, it will be in real time – just like in the off line world,  face to face!

It will be useful to see whether I think the same in a few months time.  In the meantime I shall go on tweeting on Twitter (find me as WWisewolf) and networking on LinkedIn.  I suspect its going to be Facebook that goes by the wayside soon.  Except, of course, for the odd check up to make sure there are no embarrassing tags in photos I’d rather forget.