It seems to me that so much of the dysfunctions of leadership that I have seen over and over (and over and over) could be avoided. Leaders who wound others, leaders who are caught up in sin, leaders who trip themselves up by their lack of self-awareness. All these things could be prevented… if only those leaders had a real friend.
Many leaders don’t have healthy friendships. I’m nervous around leaders whom I observe are not able to build and maintain healthy and true friendships.
Of course, I’ve heard all the excuses leaders make:
“People just want something from me”
“People don’t see me as their equal”
“People don’t understand my unique challenges”
So much isolation, deception and danger in each of those three phrases.
Leaders need friends because leaders are normal people. I think being a leader also adds unique urgency to having and maintaing healthy friendship.
Here are three qualities of friendship that leaders and everyone else needs:
Friends who wound.
Solomon once said “The wounds of a friend can be trusted”. We all need friends who don’t just encourage, they know it is safe to wound us. Wound us by telling us the gut-honest truth about ourselves. Wound us by calling us out on the antics we pull. Leader, so many of your present and future mistakes could be avoided if you just had a friend who would tell you the gut-honest truth. The truth your “followers” only dream of saying.
True friends do that because they have the safety and trust to do it. Plus, their job is not at stake by getting in your face. I bet if you told a friend about criticism you were receiving they might say, “Well, you have been grumpy lately and you get negative when you do that… I bet your people aren’t enjoying working under that, I wouldn’t!”
Leaders need friends who are willing to wound.
Friends who are around.
“Personal coaches” is a trend that can be dangerous if used inappropriately. I talked to a leader recently and asked how they are getting feedback. They replied, “Oh, I meet with the most amazing mentor and they are very honest with me.”
Here’s the problem with this approach. Those mentors and coaches are often a once-off meeting every other week. The coach has very little daily contact with you in real life, with the people you lead. The coach doesn’t have to sit through the horrendous meetings you lead. They don’t see how rude your tone of voice can come across. They don’t see how you shut down your people with passive-aggresive statements. When you are enduring criticism, you give your version of events to your coach or mentor. It’s one sided and deceptive.
A friend is someone who is around the day to day. They don’t see you just in a 1-hour appointment at an office or coffee shop. They see you with your family, they see your interactions with others in a very mundane way.
With true friends, we can’t just present one side of the story, because they see the whole thing. A friend knows our strengths and weaknesses. There is safety in that.
Leaders need friends who are around.
Friends who don’t leave.
You know what my definition of leadership is? Leadership is making mistakes publicly, one day at a time.
I cringe at the mistakes I have made. I feel grateful that people bothered to work with me when I was less than enjoyable to work with (to put it mildly).
Everyone makes mistakes but leaders make them publicly, day after day. You are a dangerous leader if you don’t know this.
So, how is one to survive? Through faithful friends who stick with us in good times and bad times.
People will come and go. Some staff will join with high expectations of you and leave with total disappointment in your leadership. Leaders need friends who see our successes and encourage us. Leaders need friends who see our failures and stand by us saying, “don’t give up”.
This provides the stability and safety to rejoice in our victories and own our mistakes. Unconditional love tends to do that. Leaders who don’t have honest, long-term, and unconditional friends can tend to be insecure and insular. The sad thing is everyone else sees it but them.
Leaders need friends who don’t leave.
If you are a leader, do you have the friends needed to succeed in this journey?