We all want friends. It is human to desire to connect with other humans and discover people that enjoy being with us and we with them. Often we discover people with whom we have similar interests and hobbies. Perhaps they are colleagues from work or fellow congregants at our church. I knew a couple that met in a bar…and a great marriage developed from that initial experience. However, there is another type of friendship that can develop, that may contain a power differential, between the participants that is inherently unstable and unequal in what the situational friends bring to the relationship.
I remember working in church duties, intermittently over a 50 year period, and, at times, discovering to my dismay that no matter how much that I did…or how carefully I performed the duties…somehow, they never measured up. Now, this dedication to service came from a christian zeal and a friendship with church leaders. The work was all volunteer and, periodically, the rewards were cruel criticism and stinging retorts.
I have been a leader in organizations…but more often than not…I have been a leader’s helper. During my lengthy career I can reflect on more than one unequal friendship that I was a participant in…and I did not realize the dynamics of the partnership, until it imploded. I have been friends with chancellors who when my usefulness was waining…. Seemed to forget who I was. I labored for a supervisor for 12 years, believing that my efforts were appreciated. I took that job because he beseeched me to take it. I liked him a lot. I worked untold hours, without pay, for my boss…who I was sure was my friend. We have not spoken in well over 20 years.
I, sadly, got accustomed to leaders assuring me that they were going to help me and do something for me…which included promotion and a raise in pay…and the promises… never happening. Probably the most disconcerting experiences, that I have had on numerous occasions, was to search for my friend, the leader, when the time came for them to back their promises to me…and not being able to find them due to a chameleon talent of blending into the scenery.
Leadership is hard! I had a member of my staff tell me, once, that they did not trust me. When I asked why, they could not point to a substantive reason. I inquired if I had ever told them something and not followed through and done what I said…and they responded that I had not. I asked if I had ever lied to them…and they said, no. I have said that I strove to never make a promise that I could not, reasonably, believe that I could keep.
During my career I had the propensity of speaking truth to power. Now…although I said some unpopular things to men and women who were much more powerful than me…I did not do so every day. To enjoy peace and collegiality one must be peaceful and collegial.
The popular axiom that I have attempted to live my professional life, implementing is; ‘to be good but not gullible, friendly but not familiar.’ It is a common malady of some leaders to marvel at what their hands hath wrought. I heard Michael Bloomberg say that he had worked, ‘really hard,’ to build his multi-billion dollar business. One of his democratic colleagues asked if he thought that, ‘perhaps some of the workers had responsibility for the Bloomberg business success?’
Leaders, pay attention to who facilitates your success!