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It’s Easier to Be a Friend Than a Manager, But That’s Not Your Job

Friend vs Manager

Friend vs Manager

I’ve had many conversations recently with owners, directors, managers and employees at AV integration companies about the topic of accountability — or the lack thereof.  When I ask them about their frustrations with both their direct reports, peers and others in the organization, I hear answers like, “I don’t like to be mean,” or “They just don’t do what they’re supposed to do,” or “Nobody holds anybody accountable anymore.”

The hard truth is that many senior managers in small and medium AV integration companies haven’t learned how to be managers.  

Many assumed management positions as their company grew, and many of their initial employees were also their friends–or became their friends–and they were rarely trained to become managers.  The corporate culture then becomes conflict-averse – where it’s easier to clean up somebody else’s mess or mistakes than to confront them – where the mantra of “let’s all just get along,” and “don’t rock the boat,” fosters an environment where personal responsibility can be replaced with “that’s not my job”.

Let’s discuss these directors and managers first, because they’re often a large part of the problem due to lack of management skill and/or desire to actually perform the function of “manager”.

Management is hard work if done properly, and some folks in those positions don’t really want to be managers.

Or aren’t sure how to be.

Or both.

Answers to certain fundamental questions will help determine how effective a manager is likely to be when managing employees:

  • Is there a documented position description outlining responsibilities?
  • Has everyone read them, and reached a mutual understanding of the requirements, deliverables and quality standards for each of the responsibilities?
  • Does the employee have the resources needed to perform as expected?
  • Does everyone understand how his/her work affects other people, groups and projects?
  • Is the employee capable of doing what is expected?
  • Does the consequence system promote effective individual and team performance?
  • Do you acknowledge exemplary performance or discuss specific instances of sub-standard performance?

Many of these questions do not routinely get addressed with the employee in a proactive sense, and when we ask the employee if they are, the answer is usually “no”.  Whether you are their manager (or even just their “friend), that’s an injustice to that employee, and in fact all employees.  It’s a disservice to the company because it shows a lack of “management” skill and the willingness to ask meaningful, important—and yes, sometimes difficult—questions.

A common element in both management and leadership is that they carry an obligation to the group—not to the individual.

It should not be about friend vs manager – the next time you think you’re being mean to an individual or “not their friend,” think about the disservice and frustration that it breeds in the group of employees when they see that there is not a uniform standard of measurement, not a benchmark of quality to strive for, not a goal to be achieved, and not a consistent approach to rewarding good performance and correcting sub-standard performance.  When an environment communicates that “OK is good enough” we often find low morale, complacency, martyrdom, entitlement, and disrespect.

It’s much better to be someone who others respect and grow to like (or not), than someone who people like but do not respect.

Being a mature manager is an honor and a privilege — and comes with authority and commensurate responsibilities. It should never be a burden…


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