One of the toughest challenges a manager can face is also one aspect of the job that, at the start, often seems like it's going to be great--managing a friend. Contrary to what nearly everyone thinks when they’re first considering it, it’s really hard. Indeed, very few people come out of it with their friendship intact.
But for some reason, no one believes this at the beginning. Everyone thinks it will be different for them. If there are problems, you'll just talk through them. It'll be great. And it often is at first. But then you discover things like this:
- Suddenly you have to keep secrets from your friend. You're going to have access to information that you can't tell her about.
- And she'll need to keep things from you. At some point, everyone needs to vent about their boss, no matter how great that boss is. But the person she'll need to vent about will be you.
[See advice on how to disagree with your boss.]
- Part of a manager's job is to judge how employees are doing. Your job will be to judge your friend. That’s a horrible feeling, on both sides.
- It's unhealthy on the other side too, for your friend whose job is now partially to please you, anticipating your desires and, at times, subverting her own in service of yours.
- To be a good boss, you'll need to give her feedback. Will you be able to be honest? How will that impact the dynamic between you?
- You're going to have information you'll wish you didn't have. When an employee calls in sick on a day you really need her, you're disappointed but you understand. When that employee is your friend and you happen to know she was out drinking the night before, you have a different issue to deal with.
[See tips on how to fire someone.]
- The worst possible outcomes could become a reality. Can you imagine having to tell your friend she's in danger of getting fired if her performance doesn’t improve? Can you picture yourself having to fire her?
- Now, if you’re like everyone else in the history of the workplace, you’re thinking, “It’ll be different for us.” We all think that. We’re almost always wrong.
The reality is that there's a very good chance you'll find that doing your job well means sacrificing the friendship. If the trade-off isn't worth it to you, take protective measures: Don't put yourself in a situation where you might ever need to make that choice.
Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results. She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.