Should Leaders Be Friends or Friendly?

pic for friends

Working with many new managers across all the generations in the workplace, one of the biggest challenges is how to establish healthy working relationships with team members. It can be very confusing deciding on the just the right “note” to strike with others. On one hand, leadership is all about building meaningful relationships, and on the other hand, can we get “overly connected” to the people in our workplaces?

Last week I had this very discussion while working with an emerging leader. We tried to sort out the differences and how they may look in a professional work environment. We also explored the question: Is it possible to work side by side someone who is our friend?

For some of us, the answer may seem simple- keep your work relationships friendly and professional. No need to mix the two. While other leaders may have the perspective- “I spend so much time at work, I want people on my team to be my friends.”

Here are some guidelines that may help you find the right balance and the answers for you on being friends or friendly.


Whether you are shooting for friendly or friends, the first step in cultivating a meaningful work relationship, is developing trust between you and your team members. Be the leader who is authentic, dependable and ready to pitch in when needed. We build trust when we do what we say we are going to do.


We can be both friendly and friends by leading through openness and respect.

  • Ask teammates for their suggestions and ideas when working on joint projects
  • Weigh alternative opinions without judging
  • Consider using at least part of a different point of view
  • Validate all contributions to show every idea counts


Help team members identify their talents and abilities through words of encouragement. We develop stronger professional connections as well as friends when we become cheerleaders for other’s gifts.


Being an active listener shows we care and value what our team members have to say. In being friendly and being friends, listening to one another is essential. And not just passive listening, but also really paying attention by asking empowering and relevant questions.

  • Could you tell me more about that idea? It sounds like it could be so impactful.
  • How would you apply that concept to our project?
  • Would you be able to describe for me the steps involved to get a better understanding?


To build a high performing team with people who work in sync, it is key to learn about one another. Find out what brings your team members joy and what stops them in their tracks. When we find out the interests of others outside of work, we can become friendlier or friends.


Although we might think we know about a teammate, we might be making assumptions about their backgrounds and likes. Forget about generational differences and instead discover why someone prefers to be friendly and not friends. They may have been taught that work and personal lives should be separate. Learn why having friends is so helpful to another person.


Recognizing a job well done is important to everyone on a team. We all want to feel we are making valuable contributions. We can build more caring relationships when we show gratitude through shout outs or emails.


In the end, one of the goals for all of us is to cultivate a professional network of colleagues and friends during our careers. These are trusted advisors we can turn to for honest feedback as well as encouragement when we are facing roadblocks. Sometimes these individuals become lifetime friends and sometimes friendly colleagues we can always count on.

How do you decide whether to be a friend or friendly in your work world?

(Photo credit-Flickr CC Luke Addison)

2 thoughts on “Should Leaders Be Friends or Friendly?

  1. Great post Terri! I agree that emotional intelligence is essential if we are to be successful leaders because we need to understand what is important to others. If we cannot accomplish this basic and foundationally important task, it is very hard to develop trust.

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