The “Friend” Boss


Robin from Washington wrote in with this question (thanks, by the way – keep them coming!):

“A guy I’ve worked with for years, a friend, just got promoted to supervisor and is now my boss. It’s like he changed overnight and is no longer the same person. It’s totally gone to his head…. My coworkers agree. It’s like we’ve lost a friend. What should we do?”

One of the most difficult transitions someone can make is the move from employee to boss. It’s hard on everyone – the person who got the promotion, and the coworkers who now are reporting to him (her). The discomfort in the transition stems from two things: First, the individual who got promoted actually did change overnight. His roles and responsibilities are now quite different than they were a scant 24 hours ago. It’s likely he has no experience in the position, and has received minimal, if any, training for it. It can take a while to adjust, with some people never quite making it.The second thing is that it is equally hard for the coworkers, who are suddenly reporting to the person they were working side-by-side with just the day before. Taking direction from someone who you still think of as a peer can sometimes be hard to do.

The sense that the friend-turned-boss is ‘no longer the same person’ and that the job has ‘gone to his head’ is quite common, and, in truth, quite accurate. What we really need to do is acknowledge that, as far as our work relationship goes, he can’t be the same person, and the job must go to his head. Because if neither of those occur, it means he isn’t making the transition he has to make to do his job well. If you are truly this person’s friend, your job is not to judge him, but to support him. This means that during working hours, you respect his position, his decisions, and follow his direction. You don’t push back, or try to leverage your friendship for special treatment or favours. You treat him no differently than you would any other boss, and expect the same in return.

Does this mean you can’t be friends any more? Of course you can. But it’s up to you to respect him enough to be a great employee by day, and a great friend at night.

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