Let love be genuine. 

Romans 12:9

Are you friends with your employees? Perhaps not with every single one, but have you cultivated genuine friendships with most of them?

I cringe when I hear leaders and coaches say they can’t be friends with the people they lead and coach. They believe they shouldn’t be friends because it may lead to perceived favoritism. Or that it may mitigate their ability to correct negative performance. So they separate themselves. They build walls.

They serve, but they don’t extend camaraderie.

Does this resonate with you?

God wants us to do more than just serve. He wants us to experience deep joy in serving! I believe that it’s difficult – if not impossible – to experience deep joy in relationships with people you don’t let close. Leadership and friendship must be more synonymous than not.

In my experience, when you take steps to become a servant leader as Jesus modeled, you can’t help but become friends with and therefore a more effective servant of the people you lead. Servant leadership is all about relationships; the connections we make, the friendships we create. It’s a much more joyous — and much more effective — approach to being a boss.

People perform better when they sense that you are genuine in your concern for them.


So, how can you cultivate friendships with the people you lead in a way that fuels your support of them and their performance for you?

Celebrate Common Purpose and Passion. 

Close friends often times share a hope and vision around a preferred state of the future. This common focus cements their friendship. As a servant leader, you can connect with people through your organization’s purpose, vision, and values. You can talk about these things conversationally, in real terms. Drop the slogans and “marketing speak” and instead spark a discussion about the difference your work makes for you. Why can’t you wait to get up in the morning to support your team? Articulate these things to your people, often. You’re on the same journey. Help your people realize this. When people get connected on a common purpose and passion, great things happen!

Demonstrate Loyalty and Personal Character. 

Devotion. Allegiance. Faithfulness. How often do you hear about these things in today’s mobile economy? Their rarity creates an opening for you! If you demonstrate your steadfastness and dependability, you’ll stand out in people’s minds. They’ll trust you, just as they trust their friends to “have their backs” when something goes wrong. This can’t be lip service, however. Loyalty requires responsibility and commitment. Your people will watch you closely to make sure you’re actually “in it” with them for the long haul. Don’t disappoint them.

Be Selfless. 

Like friendship, servant leadership involves a concern for the well being of others. It means putting your people ahead of yourself, looking out for them, and acting in ways that benefit them, even if they’ll never be aware that you did. Give yourself to your people. Help others become the people that they want and are meant to be. I promise, your effort will be reciprocated. Through giving, you’ll learn more about yourself and how you can actualize God’s plan for your life.

Be Honest.

Have integrity. That goes without saying, right? But, being honest means more than just telling the truth. It means encouraging others to speak up and tell their truth, as well – even if it’s not what you want or need to hear. When you encourage honest communication, you and the people you lead hold up bright, shiny mirrors to each other. You reveal in stark detail how your behaviors impact your relationships, either positively or negatively. Friendship is built on this honesty — and the humbleness to shift course when needed.

Listen Intentionally.

Pay attention to what’s being said. But also, look for what’s being withheld. Ask questions. Check your understanding. Test your perception. Like friends, servant leaders do their best coaching when they are listening and asking great questions that lead to discovery and growth.

Extend Compassion.

Both friends and servant leaders are concerned about the suffering of others. It is this attitude that calls you to be present and approachable at all times. Be the person that people come to in times of trouble. Extend empathy first…then offer support. When people feel heard and validated, they’ll continue to open up to you. You need this openness to lead your people effectively.

Let Yourself Be Vulnerable. 

Like friends, servant leaders are humble and vulnerable. Be open to sharing your weaknesses. Through sharing, you open the door to others to step up and contribute in the areas where you’re lacking. Being vulnerable is a gift to the people you lead. Remember: friendship is a two-way street. You’ve got to let yourself be supported, too.


Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. 

Ecclesiastes 4:12


The world needs servant leaders. Servant leadership is rooted in friendship. You don’t have to choose to be one or the other. You can be both! Your organization will benefit from your becoming a great friend and a great servant leader.


What are your thoughts? Can you lead and be a friend at the same time?

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:12-13