How to Overcome 4 Barriers to Developing CommunityJan 13, 2023
Welcome to Friday 411, Issue #010. What role should you, as a leader, play in building your team’s community? Should you focus on pursuing friendships with subordinates? In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll discover your best relational role in creating community.
As a leader, you have a responsibility to create an environment of trusting relationships for those you lead. To develop that community, you will play many relational roles: manager, mentor, coach, advisor, counselor, etc. Attempting to be a friend is your least important role and may even sabotage your efforts.
This idea of not prioritizing friendship gets a lot of pushback, particularly from younger leaders at the beginning of their leadership journeys. We get it. We’ve been there. It feels wrong to forgo friendship with the people you work with. What’s the point of rolling out of bed in the morning if you don’t get to play with friends all day?
Garland, Garland's dad, and Dorothy's dad all share an unfortunate life experience: all three men have been fired by unscrupulous leaders. (This is a big reason why we’ve dedicated our lives to leadership development—so that fewer will suffer under leaders who don’t know how to treat people with dignity.)
When Dorothy’s parents went through this ordeal, Garland’s parents had already experienced it a decade earlier. Garland’s mom shared a piece of advice with them: “Don’t expect people you thought were your friends to stand up for you. You may have seen your employees as friends, but you’ll discover they saw you differently.” Dorothy’s mom says that this is the best advice she received.
Years later, when it was our turn, we knew this warning. But we were still shocked and shaken when our beloved community didn’t respond to our loss like friends.
Why? What was standing in the way of building genuine and enduring friendships with those whom we led?
The Wall Between Leaders and Subordinates
We define “friend,” as a peer-to-peer relationship of honor, respect, and affection expressed with a high level of authenticity and vulnerability. A leader who pursues this sort of relationship with subordinates will run into a wall. This wall causes disappointment, frustration, and hurt, while diminishing trust and hindering community.
The wall that stands between leaders and those they lead is POSITION.
Position is often invisible to the leader and glaringly vivid to those being led. You may find it difficult to see others' perceptions of you as their leader. You don’t strive to be intimidating. (Unless you're a power-hungry fear-monger with Marvel-villain levels of cutthroat ambition.)
You knew yourself as an awkward preteen. You have been present for all your own screwups. You may change diapers or clean toilets on the regular. You are witness to your own daily bathroom habits. You know how goofy you can be.
You see yourself as human. Your employees see your POSITION.
Sure, they may also perceive you as kind, benevolent, or even fun and jovial. They may even have deep affection, respect, or admiration for you.
But those feelings they have for you as a person are mixed with feelings they have for the POSITION you hold.
This wall of POSITION is buttressed by four barriers that stand in the way of friendship:
Leadership carries a power differential which causes intimidation. You are scary. Even if you don’t see it, those you lead have a constant awareness of the power you wield.
An employee agrees to last-minute drinks with you. You believe it’s because he values your relationship. But he will never tell you that he skipped his son’s band concert to be with you. He hurt his son, and his wife is furious. But your POSITION is scarier than his family.
People tend to bend to the relationships where they feel the most fear and the least amount of unconditional love and acceptance.
This is a big reason why people may abandon you if you lose your position. Their fear-allegiance has shifted to their new leader, one who may not look fondly on them cavorting with their old leader.
People you lead may act like friends to you. You have dinner with them. They show up to significant events like birthday parties and funerals. But their motivation to build a relationship with you is not the same as yours.
They must do what it takes to stay in good standing with you. You have the freedom to choose whether you spend time with them. They feel an obligation because of your position.
Think about the last time your supervisor invited you out to lunch. You had a heightened awareness of your actions. You paid extra attention to your manners, to the appropriateness of the stories you told, even to your meal choice. You thought to yourself: My boss may think twice about promoting someone who orders chicken fingers and fries at this fancy restaurant.
Compare those feelings to the last time you ate out with a buddy. You didn’t think about any of those things. You were yourself, talking with food in your mouth, sharing crude stories, eating your chicken fingers. Friendship brings ease, not pressure.
People in positions of leadership have access to the control panels of others’ lives. You control their time and priorities. You determine how much money they make, whether they get advanced or demoted, even if they’re fired.
This perception of control has a way of distorting their interpretation of your actions as a leader.
- You withhold information from an employee to protect them. They fill in the blanks with their own version of the story with you as the diabolical mastermind.
- You hold an employee accountable to a company standard to give them a better chance at advancement. They think you’re micromanaging them.
- You care about an employee’s well-being enough to remove a project from their overflowing plate. They believe you’ve stolen an opportunity for promotion.
Friendship allows freedom. Friends don’t have control over the well-being of you or your family. These relationships with people you chose exist for enjoyment.
The Role You Should Prioritize Instead of Friend
In leadership, there is a role more appropriate, significant, fulfilling, and effective than friend: visionary.
We as humans are designed for connection. We are meant to function within relationships. We crave that connection when we roll out of bed in the morning.
That connection isn’t solely dependent on friendship. It can also be fulfilled through community. You, the leader, are responsible to create that community.
We define community as a group of people connected by shared interests, visions, or goals.
Position is a wall. This wall prevents peer-to-peer relationships. But you can transform this wall into a platform to center everyone around a shared vision. Only you, the leader, can use your position to establish the vision and create community.
By creating community through a shared vision, leaders can have healthy, even profound and rewarding relationships with those they lead.
Your team has enough friends. They need you to be their leader.
Are your team’s vision and goals clear enough to build community around them? Have everyone on your team write down the current vision. If you get different answers, your vision needs better clarification and communication. The community of your team depends on your vision, not on your friendship.
Want to live and lead more intentionally? Here are two ways we can help:
1. Follow Garland on LinkedIn for daily posts on leadership, culture, and intentional living.
2. Get your copy of Gettin' (un)Busy, named by Forbes as "one of the books everyone on your team should read."
3. Contact us about speaking for your company or event.