Let love be genuine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
All the qualities you describe such as trust, listening, honesty, and compassion require a certain level of friendship. I was often friends with my managers, but there was always mutual respect. I would not expect special treatment from my manager and my manager would never expect me to ask for it. I believe there are levels of friendship too. With genuine relationships you know where the boundaries are and what defines them. I like how you spoke to the ways of cultivating friendships. Sometimes we assume those characteristics just happen, but there is a need to actively pursue the qualities of friendship in our behavior.
Jane, thanks so much for your insights on relationships between leaders and their team. I really appreciate your point of the importance of intentionality in the pursuit of the qualities of friendship. Awesome! Blessings on your day.
Good article Mark. As you experienced in your past, not all leaders practice these principles. Keep up the great work!
Thanks Rich, I appreciate the encouraging words! And you are right, there are many leaders that don’t believe they should have a friendship relationship with those they lead. I think they are missing the boat with that attitude. Relationships drive results! Blessings on your day.
I thought you were going to go the other way with this. I’m glad you didn’t. I find myself in more of a coaching relationship with my staff and extend trust and teaching through our relationships/friendships. They spend a great deal of time with me and I want to be a part of the joy in their lives. I appreciated your article because sometimes it seems that leaders can be very cold under the guise of professionalism.
Good for you Amanda! Thank you so much for sharing your positive experience of having a friendship relationship with those you lead. Awesome! Blessings on your day.
Great points. People always seem to side either with the system of culture or the people within the culture. The right answer is that an organization’s culture must at times oscillate back and forth between these two sides. It’s not a balance, it’s a constant transformation of going back and forth.
This is why a lot of big things like reinventing the business model for a company or modernizing the company fail miserably. Many invalidly assume that the right culture is right all the time.
Thanks so much for your insightful comments Chris. I would like to hear more about your thoughts on the “system” of culture vs. the “people” within the culture. My main point in this blog was that relationships will drive results, and an important aspect of any culture is one in which leaders are present, approachable, and have a relationship with their team.
I might have written it differently, but agree whole heartily! Servant Leaders build a relationship with everyone involved. My mentor said, learn their names before you ask for their heart.
Dick, thank you so much for your valuable comments and insight into the subject of building relationships as a leader. I love your mentors advice – “learn their names before you ask for their heart”. That is so right on! Thanks for all you are doing to advance great principles of servant leadership! Blessings on your week!