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Leadership and Friendship

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Leadership and Friendship

By Nicholas Sinclair | Sep 18, 2020

Friendship & Leadership: Can they co-exist?

Can a relationship, and more specifically a friendship, exist between leaders and their followers? It is a question worth exploring and warrants further investigation. The traditional construct of leadership that many of us are familiar with would lead us to believe that such a relationship dynamic is not possible. However, when accounting for the societal and technological developments of the 21st century we find that the very foundations of our belief and value systems have changed and evolved. Sometimes by choice, and other times by circumstance. Take remote working for example; where once we thought working completely from home whilst successfully engaging with remote colleagues and teams was all but impossible, now, it is a reality for a vast percentage of the workforce and what’s more being achieved with a high degree of success.

The evolution of our value systems is not limited to simple work practices, but extends to relationships, business, and organisational design. In response to the demands of the contemporary business environment, many organisations have moved away from a traditional corporate hierarchal structure that relies on a rigid chain of command to a more flat organisational structure that is arguably more fluid, dynamic and in some circumstances more productive.

So, what characterises flat organisation?

A flat organisational structure is based on the premise that everyone is seen as equal and there is little to no formal business systems which account for and enforce traditional workplace elements such as job titles, seniority, upper management or executives (Morgan, 2015). It embodies values of equality, fluid communication and recognises the contribution of value from all team members within the organisation. It is rare that organisations implement a system that is 100% flat or hierarchical, and in most cases we find it is a combination of both. Take Tesla for example; Elon Musk in an internal memorandum, told employees that communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done as opposed to going through the “chain of command.”

Back to the topic question; can Friendship and Leadership co-exist? Well, like all things there is a requirement for balance. But balance can be hard to acquire. It takes an understanding of both things. Both sides of the argument. What is a friend? The handy Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection’, basically that, you like each other in some capacity. You don’t have to have known them for years. You don’t have to know their favourite colour. You just have to like each other, even if it’s just a bit. A friend can be many things. It’s important to understand this.

So, what happens when your friend is suddenly your ‘Leader’. Maybe it happened in the workplace. Maybe you went into business with a friend. Regardless of how you did it. Your friend is now your ‘Leader’. What does this mean? Where there was once compassion and empathy; now they can tell you what to do. You could be reprimanded when you don’t see eye to eye.

But from a leaders point of view: there are objectives to meet. Things cost money. If deadlines aren’t met and we can’t all move towards an objective, things can get a bit crazy. From the outside sometimes that’s hard to comprehend. In many way’s it’s hard to understand what it is a Leader does. But of course, that’s always the case. Because a leader has to be all things. They have to do all jobs and direct the collective energy.

However, just as a Friend can be many things. So too can a Leader. As we’ve discussed in previous articles: Leadership extends into all areas of our lives. Where we find challenges in friendships between a Boss or Manager and an employee. There might not be those challenges within other Leadership dynamics. Maybe you lead a group at your child’s school. Maybe it’s your turn to organise Book Club. In different dynamics, this relationship can be different. Regardless of your situation, to get anything done, we need to be motivated. If people don’t feel valued and respected, it can be hard to get them to do anything.

As proposed at the start of this article; balance is the key to any relationship. There’s a fine line between things that are appropriate in the workplace and those outside the workplace. Outside of work in a private setting, it might be appropriate to have a heated argument or debate. But in the workplace, those same actions can cause a lot of discontent. Resentment is something that can grow and evolve. If people don’t feel valued or respected, it’s very easy to digress into a victim mentality. Shame is not something people like feeling. So, ensure that interactions are balanced and in context. In context meaning; that reactions are workplace-specific. If your life outside of your work relationship starts to taint your connections at work, then you know it’s time to set boundaries.

Setting boundaries is a crucial part of any Leadership position. But the most important thing to remember is that “Boundaries need to be set and re-set” (Wise Heroes, 2017). People are constantly growing and changing. In the current situation especially! So be clear about what is and is not appropriate. Usually, this is a discussion that is had over and over again. As people change and grow, their needs change and grow with them. “Boundaries need to be set and re-set”! (Wise Heroes, 2017)

Within the workplace: it can be better to not hire your friends or be overly friendly to those working under you. In many ways, it does change the dynamic. So, here’s a quick guide, for those might be looking to hire a friend:

  • 1 ) Never hire someone out of pity. That’s just asking for a bad time.
  • 2 ) Ask yourself: Would you hire this person if they’re weren’t your friend?
  • 2a) Remember that there is a halo effect that happens around friends.
    Make sure to check their references and job experience.
  • 3 ) Ask yourself: Are you willing to lose this friend? If not maybe, it’s better not to hire them. Sometimes it’s hard to be friends with someone after a big argument.
  • 4 ) Ask yourself: Are they an asset to your company/department?
  • 5 ) Do they expect special treatment?


Morgan, Jacob, 2015, The 5 Types Of Organizational Structures: Part 3, Flat Organizations, Forbes, [Accessed 14 Sep. 2020]

CharlesNgo (2017). Should You Hire Your Friends? | AskNgo. Watch Below:

Wise Heroes (2017). How Does A Leader Separate Friendship And Leadership?
by Dr. Stephen Dansiger. Watch Below:



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