[April 25, 2020] The U.S. Army is a large organization. A common expectation is that once you meet a soldier, you may never see them again. While that is true, those in your peer group can become close friends. One such Army Engineer Officer and I were on similar career paths as officers. He had a problem that I tried to tell him about, but no one else would also say to him that he was too friendly to our soldiers and Department of Army civilians.
On the face of it, how could anyone disagree that being too friendly is a problem. We all want others to see us as pleasant and approachable to people on our team. We are, after all, happier working for someone we get along with at work. We experience less stress, have higher job satisfaction, and worry less. We also like to be popular. Working with friendly people is a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want to have a pleasant drink with the boss after work hours?
However, leaders are often required to make harsh decisions regarding folks on their team. Those decisions could be firing someone for poor performance, or it could mean giving an employee a reprimand, demotion, or other adverse personnel action. Perhaps the company you work for is forced to downsize it’s personnel or is about to go bankrupt. In the U.S. Army, a leader can be the one who has to order an attack on an enemy position in combat, knowing that the life and death of your soldiers hang in the balance.
Being too friendly is a hindrance to good leadership. Some will try to take advantage of your friendship by asking for special attention or exemption from the rules. It doesn’t mean that they are doing something illegal or unethical. Yet, their request can put the leader in a no-win situation. If the boss wants to be liked and also productive at work, there is a risk both cannot coexist at the same time.
A good boss can avoid being too friendly by setting clear personal boundaries. Boundaries can foster more productive work environments. Those who work for you will see that everyone is treated fairly and evenly. As humans, we have different values, needs, and beliefs. These can lead to conflict, resentment, and stress. Clearly defined boundaries can help prevent these adverse reactions.
My good friend, another Colonel, was eventually forced to resign his commission and retire early from the U.S. Army. He had gone too far on several occasions when several women took his friendliness as hostile sexual advances. I’m sure this was not the case, but perception matters, and his superiors lost confidence in his ability to lead. The end of an excellent career was unfortunate, but it reinforced my thinking that he was too friendly. His other friends never figured it out.
I’m just getting around to reading the past few days worth of articles and really enjoyed this one. I’ve too experienced this leadership trap. Be careful, mentor young leaders, and be there to show them how to avoid this “too friendly” problem.
Some things not to do with being too friendly:
Don’t: Vent about work issues
Don’t: Accept favorable treatment
Don’t: Get wasted on drinks or drugs
Don’t: Overshare about your personal life
Don’t: Be touchy-feely (ouch)
Nice list Tom.
“The do’s and don’ts of being friends with your boss.”
We can have a good time at lunch having conversations, even having a drink after work or playing hacky sack in the parking lot. I think friendly relations between bosses and employees supports good work and good performance.
Useful article, thanks Otto for sharing it. I think that people are people and they like to be social. Unfortunately, the workplace is not the location to be engaged in trying to find a date for Saturday night or for striking up a long-term relationship. Find these elsewhere. The future will be awkward at the least if the relationship breaks up, as they are prone to do.
Excellent article. Thanks General Satterfield for your consistent ability to make this website useful and entertaining.
Ha Ha….. another army colonel bites the dust. One would think by the time they have more than 15 years or so in the army, they would have figured this out by now. If nothing else, they would have seen others have their careers ended for the exact behavior they are now guilty of.
Excellent article. Every junior person in an authority position should read this everyday. That way, maybe, they can avoid falling into this problem from the start. Their lives will be better off.
Alas, that is a great suggestion that will, of course, not be held to. I find that most junior leaders just want to get along. Sometimes that is interpreted as being too friendly or wanting to be popular. Some are just friendly natured and want to get along. That has worked for them in the past and are less likely to be accused of something nefarious.
Probably so, but that is part of the problem.
From a purely platonic relationship perspective I can see where you’re coming from with today’s article. Good topic. This ‘too friendly’ behavior is a trap many junior leaders fall into. Most senior leaders know how to make the balance. However, I can see by your article that even the most senior ones can fall into the trap.
Right. In the old days when a problem occurred, the employee was fired to fix the issue. Now they fire the boss. What gives with that?
It’s an attempt to flatten the power distribution. This is a western nation concept mostly and it also fails regularly.
Couldn’t have said it better. I too have had bosses that wanted to be ‘too friendly’ and I told them to bug off. I have a husband and kids. Why would I want a creepy boss hovering around me all day?
Agreed. I also think that Gen. Satterfield is writing from the perspective that some people just want to be friendly (not a romantic relationship) and that gets in the way of them doing their job. Good example is when people use that friendship against the boss. When the boss makes hard decisions, now everyone is mad.
Good point Greg. Thanks. Yep, and that happened to me as a team leader in a small company. Eventually I just had to say I was no longer friends with those on my team.
Same here Eva. Thanks for mentioning this. I find too many junior leaders who cannot make a distinction between work and play. The work environment is a place to WORK and not PLAY.