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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Columnist: Afoun, John

Aspects of leadership

First and foremost, welcome to 2015, and since this is my very first article of the year, I would like to take the opportunity to wish my forum family “Fe yeye” “Ewe” for Happy New Year. Hope the year began well for you and your love ones. I pray the year brings success in both your personal and business life.

This is article is a continuation of my management and leadership series. In this article, I shall attempt to discuss the subject of managers and friendship at the work place, and pose a question of; Can Managers be “Friends” with their direct reports?

Throughout my career, many of my best friends were people I met through work. We went through good and bad times, shared successes and failures, leaned on each other, and, many times, extended those work friendships to our personal lives.

After an organization I worked for restructured, I found myself in a position of leadership, and, in addition to leading former peers, one of my new direct reports was a very good friend. At first, both of us thought it was great. We has always enjoyed working together and we figured that nothing would change. But things HAD changed.
One day I needed to remind him about the necessity of adhering to a corporate policy, I remember seeing him roll his eyes and say, “That’s what you all say,” At first I wasn’t sure who the “you” he was referring to was. But he was telling me he saw me differently. I was “management.” I then learned a valuable “first-time boss” lesson; Promotion brings social order change. I was in a new role, at least at work, and that role was not his “friend”.
Another issue I found uncomfortable when I moved into my new leader role was that I now had access to my buddy’s personal file, including all his past reviews, ratings, documentation, and his salary. As a new leader, this caused a fair amount of discomfort on my part when it came time for his annual review, and, when he thought he was a superstar, I merely saw him as “meets requirements” employee. Fortunately, the situation of leading my friend didn’t last long due to another reorganization. We were both able to relax. But I still wondered about the best way to lead a personal friend.
Many people who manage friends at work have a rule outside of work – “no shop talk” when they are not at work. However, I don’t see how that is possible. Take the President His Excellency John Mahama and his Chief of staff Mr. Prosper Bani for an example, are they really able to separate business from friendship? Even if a leader and direct report can follow that rule, the leader is going to know his or her friend much better than any other direct report. The leader will know about the friend’s interests, values, family life, and perhaps even personal financial information. It would take a special breed of human being to not let that get in the way of making important decisions about that employee in situations such as performance appraisals, discipline, promotion, or training.
These are hard-learned lessons, but necessary ones. It is most important to be aware of the potential problems and issues and make every effort to deal with them upfront. Another potential area of conflict is giving feedback. Can a leader really provide a non-biased feedback to a friend at work? Giving feedback is an important skill for all managers. Choosing the appropriate feedback to provide in the right amount is the key.
It is one thing to address clear, measurable, objective areas where an opportunity to improve would bring measureable results. It’s quite another to send a message that says “no matter what you accomplish, you’ll never be able to satisfy me. I will always be able to find fault with your job performance – but it’s for your own good.” There are times when success should be enjoyed, savored, and allowed to wreak positive motivational havoc. Can this happen with a friend as a direct report?
Moderation in all things it’s a good thing, even feedback. Consider this when thinking about the feedback you provide as a manager. It should be thoughtful, deliberate, and focused on behaviors that can help the employee grow and develop. Feedback for the sake of feedback, while zeroing in on the more insignificant things, isn’t useful. Sometimes it’s enough to say “Great job” But then again, can it be truly said to or about a friend who is a direct report at work?
Now, since most top level positions in Ghana including but not limited to government are offered on the bases of whom you know, such as friendship, school mate, political party membership etc., the sixty million cedi question is this, can the Ghanaian manager/leader ever be effective and efficient as they ought to be? Let’s talk about that!
God bless Ghana, and long live Ghana.
Komal – The self-proclaimed peace broker.