Boss vs Friends

6 min. read

When you get a promotion there is often a change in dynamics with your peers who were your friends.

Having friends at work can be a wonderful experience. You can spend time with those people whose company you enjoy the most, and you get to succeed together. This can be one of the factors that make up an amazing workplace. Amazing workplaces, however, are not solely built on friendship. Trust and reliability are implied when you use the word friend, but there is also another side to it. You tell friends things you wouldn’t tell your boss. You speak to your friends differently than someone who has organizational altitude with you. Making jokes and bantering are sometimes not a building block of success. All relationships have their own individual dynamics and that makes each case it's own but being a friendship can be put under pressure if one of you gets promoted to a senior position.

If you ever watched “Friends” you’ll remember the episode when Chandler gets promoted. Boss Man Bing even became a ringtone and the dynamics with his coworkers changed dramatically.

They then proceeded to mock Chandler and his intonation when he says things. It is a hilarious scene, but it certainly illustrates the problem managers and new bosses get saddled with when they take on a new position. When you are seen as a friend and you are suddenly in a senior position things change overnight whether you like it or not. You can’t always stay buddies at work anymore. Away from work, you can stay buddies but boundaries need to be set.

There are fundamental differences between being a peer and taking on the mantle of a leader. As a new boss, you obey any NDA or confidentiality agreements that come with the position. This means you cannot talk about certain topics. You will also have to put the whole team first rather than any individuals. The boss has to hold people accountable when it comes to performance.

People are the ones that make a company or organization a great place to work. Teams respond to great leaders but making the transition to a senior post can be a make or break point for a career. It isn’t a rare occurrence either, a group of CFOs said the second-biggest hurdle faced by first-time managers was supervising friends or former peers.

When you are part of a team you are all equally responsible for the outcome of the project you do together. Similarly, you all succeed together when you are a boss, but the key difference is as a boss or manager of the team your task list becomes very different. Your contribution is no longer necessarily actionable in a production sense, rather it’s about engaging, supporting, and motivating your team.

The first thing you have to realize as a new manager is that you have to take on the responsibilities the new position needs. You need to lead your team or you are not a leader. By definition, a leader is only a leader if people are willing to follow them. They have followers who regard them as someone who has answers, or can navigate whatever the world throws at all of you collectively and rise to the challenge. A leader pulls the team together and gets the most out of the group as a whole. This means the team has to trust you and believe that your competence as a leader will provide them with peace of mind and security. They need to believe that their friend who has become their boss has their best interests at heart.

If you are shifting out of the role of Buddy and into the role of Boss, take the time to champion your team. Show them respect. Be there for them not just in the office but in the boardroom or when talking to the brass. Defend them if need be. Show curiosity about the team’s ideas but when doing so make sure you take care to respect the new dynamics at play. Separate yourself from the team slightly at the very least. Having an outside view of how the team is working gives you a different lens from which to view your old teammates. Working as a boss is different from being a team member. You have to step up to a new level of commitment to the team, and it needs to be felt by all.

It can be a delicate dynamic to be sure. There's the old analogy of crabs in a bucket. If one climbs up, the rest are likely to pull him back down. And this needs to be kept in mind when climbing a corporate ladder. The intention should be to lift the team up, rather than give them reasons or opportunities to pull you back down.

Establishing Boundaries is an important part of the transition to the boss level. This isn’t a break-up but it is most certainly a shake-up in dynamics between friends. Having power over someone is not something to be lorded but rather appreciate the responsibilities that come with it. Remember Spiderman? "With great power comes great responsibility".

When you become a boss you need to change your mindset so that you think like a boss rather than just a member of the team. This can be stressful and has been known to cause anxiety and feeling soft imposter syndrome. Asking for help is not a taboo but rather can be a strength if you have the right trusted advisor. Being a leader can feel lonely at times. Being in charge can bring with it a whole host of worries that as a team member you never had to deal with before. Employees who were buddies can also feel frustrated and this can be very testing for a new leader. As the boss, you can’t voice worries and concerns to your team in the same way as before. Getting the support needed as a new boss from a mentor or advisor takes the sting out of adjusting to the new way of thinking.