Making the Leap from Friend to Team Leader

Making the Leap from Friend to Team Leader

Whether you believe leaders are born or whether they are made, leaders need to persuade and influence others towards achieving a common goal.

Here in the UK we have recently seen the art of persuasion through the Brexit campaign and more recently in the contest for the Conversative Party leadership and future Prime Minister. Boris Johnson, the former London Mayor, unexpectedly ruled himself out as a candidate for Prime Minister. A few hours before the Justice Minister, Michael Gove decided to stand for Prime Minister. Gove and Johnson worked shoulder to shoulder in the campaign for Britian to leave the EU, but just hours before the nominations closed, Boris Johnson stepped down. Gove was described as ‘back stabbing’ his friend.

Working together as a team, as friends, and then one of you is required to step up into the leadership role can be a messy business. Whether you rose from the ranks or came in cold to lead people you are socially connected to, there is one fact you must accept: regardless of how you got your position of power over your friends, what matters is how you handle the transition and power.

Another case that hit the headlines in 2000 was the so-called Mandelson loan scandal which erupted after millionaire and former paymaster general, Geoffrey Robinson, published his memoirs claiming that Peter Mandelson, then Trade and Industry Secretary, asked him for a loan to buy a home in Notting Hill. Their friendship ended in bitterness and even prompted both men to resign from their respective positions. The expose was reportedly included in the book because Mandelson did not invite Robinson to his housewarming party.

“But we’re friends ….”
“You’ve changed.”

These are common feedback from people whose friends became their boss. A disconnect happens and this may be caused by any of the following factors:

• As the team leader, you want to be accepted and liked but find it hard to balance between existing friendships and accountability. As a result, resentment, anger, and strained relationships happen.

• Your behavior appears inconsistent to your friends. They accuse you of being bossy, acting like you are above them or feel that you’ve turned your back on them.

• You become conflicted between loyalty to your friends and work responsibilities so you get accused of becoming “one of them.”

• Not all your friends can handle the authority you have over them so they talk behind your back, try to make you feel guilty for having a higher position or even try to sabotage you so you go back to being “one of the guys.”

• Your friends who are now under your supervision expect to get a “free pass” with certain behaviours, actions, and decisions – or special treatment from you because you are their friend in power. They may even expect you to champion their causes and possibly put your new position in jeopardy.

• You feel compelled to be friendly with everyone in the team to avoid being accused of favouritism but it is creating a situation where “friendliness” is overstepping its boundaries and putting you in a position where you have to make compromises.

• Members of your team who are not your friends become even more isolated and left out causing a potentially explosive situation. A 2014 UK survey revealed that 42% of UK workers do not have any friends and feel alone while at work.

Once you assume a team leader position over friends, you have to make a choice: be a leader or be a follower. Being a leader means putting your work responsibilities and duties above those of a friend because if you allow your friends to dictate or convince you to be lenient on them, you become their follower, regardless of what your job title is. On the other hand, there is the concept of servant leadership.

What is a Servant Leader?

Servant leadership is an eternal point of view not created by one man as it is found in ancient writing that dates as far back as 570 BCE and taught in the Bible. The term “servant leadership” though is relatively new and comes from Robert Greenleaf’s writing, “The Servant as Leader.”
A leader must be willing to serve others and put others’ needs before his own. It isn’t a literal translation or means that you have to follow what your team members tell you to do or you have to spoon feed them or even serve them coffee and such.
Servant leadership means:

• Listening to everyone and valuing their contributions

• Being able to develop leaders

• Encourages his team instead of dictates to his team

• Humility while in authority by speaking to others with respect and allowing others to have their dignity. This also means not shouting or embarrassing them especially in public

• Willing to step outside the work environment and help team members with life issues

• Concerned more about the long-term effects

• Create a work environment of trust, cooperation, and inspiration

In short, a servant leader feels a strong sense of responsibility for his team members and would want them to succeed.

How to Tap into Your Leadership Potential and Lead Your Team with Wisdom

Fortunately, tapping into your leadership qualities can be achieved with a little nurturing and the determination to succeed. Here are a few proven solutions that can help you become the kind of leader that not only gets the job done but gets the team working as a cohesive and productive group.

One, make a decision: do you want your team to be a happy-go-lucky bunch or a performing powerhouse? It is important to find that delicate balance of supporting your team while keeping your eye on achieving the work objectives. Having a happy team is great but not if it compromises the end results. In the long run, the team will not be happy because they will remain in limbo as far as their professional careers are concerned. Being performance-driven will lead to your team to bigger and better projects plus career advancements.

Two, be guided by the company principles and working ethics. Forget about personalities and drama. Live by the guidelines and standards of the company. To protect and help you do this, make sure the company has a written SOP and operations/HR manual that clearly states what is acceptable behavior and expectations. Have everyone in your team read the manual and put up reminders in the workplace. By following the rules and regulations set by upper management, you eliminate the need to make decisions and be influenced by friendly peer pressure.

Three, remain considerate to all. In 1945 a study by the Ohio State University revealed that leaders can elicit top performance if they treat their all team members with dignity and respect. This means that you should avoid playing favorites or showing favoritism towards friends. This kind of attitude combined with discipline will set the right foundation for your leadership.

Four, keep learning your trade. Now that you are a team leader, it’s time to step up your game by improving your skills and knowledge. As a team leader, you will have access to information and technology which you can use to improve. In short, level up especially in areas where you think you are weak.

Five, listen to the verbal and non-verbal grumblings of your team. They may have a valid point. The new position could have gone to your head. You may be trying to impress top management at the expense of your team and friends. In addition, even if there is no truth to what they are saying, the negative feelings still have to be addressed or it could escalate and affect work.

Six, don’t be afraid to take responsibility for your decisions and weed out as needed. If you value your friends but can’t work with them, help them transfer to another team where they will fit in better. However, avoid taking this move lightly. As a leader, it is part of the job to work with difficult situations and find solutions. You don’t have to have the perfect team but you can have a team that produces excellent work consistently and have no internal problems.

Seven, set clear expectations, encourage, and allow personal and professional growth. Champion your team individually and collectively making sure that everyone toes the line but is allowed to have a voice to air their concerns and suggestions.

In summary, provided you treat everyone in your team fairly and with an acceptable level of mutual and professional discipline and respect, there is nothing wrong with having friends as your subordinates. Aim for a working relationship among all team members that is clear-cut, transparent, and understood by all keeping in mind that being the boss does not mean you have to lose friends.

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