Should Coaches Be Friends with Their Employees?
When discussing the marriage between home life and career, the question of friendships between coaches and employees inevitably arises. Should you, a coach, be buddy-buddy with your staff? It's a timeless argument in business circles. But the argument takes on an added dimension when the coaching principles are thrown into the mix.
After all, doesn't coaching preach from its bully pulpit that getting to know employees is so essential? It sure does. Doesn't coaching entail carefully listening to employees and hearing what they have to say? Yes, it does. Doesn't coaching mean mirroring employees' feelings? Certainly. Doesn't coaching ask that employees be treated as individuals with unique personalities? Absolutely. Doesn't coaching mean being personal friends with employees? No…no…no.
Doesn't Coaching Equal Friendship?
Surprise! The answer is no. This is controversial subject matter for the people who have a difficult time separating the tenets of coaching and mentoring from the buddy system. After all, these folks reason, if coaches really care about their employees, they've got to be their friends and look out for them as only friends can.
Do coaches “look out” for their employees? Of course they do, but in a professional sense. What the “look out for them” principle asks of coaches is that they forge a positive work environment of the kind that we've discussed from the very first page of this book. And that means providing employees with perpetual development opportunities. Coaches want their employees to motivate themselves to do more and be more. That's looking out for them.
Yes, coaches want to be respected, and in turn they want to rely on and respect their employees. Coaches want their employees to trust them, and in turn they want to be able to trust their employees. Coaches want to work in an intimate work environment where open communication and candor are the rule between them and their employees. Ah, but doesn't that sound like friendship? Sure, respect, trust, communication, and candor are the foundations of friendship! But the coaching-employee relationship is not the same thing as a personal friendship.
It's essential for coaches to maintain a degree of personal detachment between their employees at all times. Your overriding concern as a coach is in achieving strong performance results from your employees. Productivity matters most. That's what you were hired to do. But if you establish close personal relationships with the same employees, how does maximizing their performances fit into this friendship picture? Would your friendships come first and job performances second?
Nixing Friendships with Your Employees
In life, friendships should come first all the time. That's what friends are for. And that's why friendships should not exist between managers and their employees. Managers can't afford to put personal considerations above the jobs that they were hired to do and the results that they are expected to deliver.
Let's explore the case of James, a manager of a team consisting of ten men and women. His employees' jobs are varied, but, as in most offices, dependent on one another in a variety of ways. James is a very agreeable fellow and a devotee of coaching and mentoring and all of their myriad tools and techniques. James does much of what's asked of coaches. He tries to run his office in a manner that makes each employee feel part of a productive team. He has established open communication and has frequent one-on-one sessions with his people. So far, so good.
Over time, however, James developed a strong personal affinity for two particular employees of his named Tom and Sissy. He found that he enjoyed being with them, beyond talking about business matters. And this led to the threesome, or sometimes a duo, doing lunch, going out after a day's work for a few beers, seeing a movie together, and, of course, chatting up a storm.
The leading problem in this scenario was the portending public relations debacle. That is, the remaining eight employees in the office were well aware of this relationship. They felt excluded, and, naturally, reasoned that James preferred Tom and Sissy to the rest of them. They firmly believed that James could no longer be fair and impartial in managing the whole team.
One of the excluded employees, Bob, finally went to James and expressed his opinion that Tom and Sissy were being held to different standards from the remaining eight staff members. Somewhat startled by this perception of things, James said there was no special treatment being accorded either Tom or Sissy. But regardless of what James thought of his relationship with Tom and Sissy, it didn't matter nearly as much as what the rest of the crew thought.
What did he do? James reacted by abruptly cutting off his lunches and after-hours get-togethers with Tom and Sissy. They couldn't understand what the sudden change in their boss's behavior was all about, because they both considered James a friend. As human beings they were deeply hurt and felt that a trust had been violated — the trust of friendship. Predictably, these events made the work relationship between James and Tom, and James and Sissy, untenable.