The Issue with Being Everyone’s Friend When You’re the Boss

The Issue with Being Everyone’s Friend When You're the Boss

It’s hard to maintain a leadership position if you’re too close to your staff.

Your employees need a leader. They don’t need another friend.

Yet, all too often, leaders cross the line. Why? First, managing employees, especially restaurant staff that changes on a regular basis, is hard.

Second, most managers want their employees to like them. The issue comes when everyone crosses the line, and respect is loss.

In this article, we look at the issue with being everyone’s friend when you’re the boss and how to deal with it.

Leadership is Coaching

The best managers care about their team members, but they also know it’s up to them to mentor and coach their staff to be the best employees they can be. (tweet this)

If you want a great waitress, it’s all about training, coaching, and feedback. This is hard to do if you’re best friends.

While being a leader isn’t always fun, it’s important that you put your restaurant first and do what’s best for it and your staff.

Leadership requires a person who knows how to have fun, but it also requires someone the team respects, someone who can lay out expectations and knows their staff will work hard to meet them. (tweet this)

It’s up to you to push your team to grow so your restaurant experiences great success. This is why it’s so much more important that you focus on coaching your team instead of being liked by them and being everyone’s friend.

Leadership Can’t Thrive in Conflict

For managers who choose to be everyone’s friend outside of work, they’ll find it quite difficult to thrive.

For example, if the friendship between boss and staff member has a conflict, it creates tension in the workplace. It can get so bad that one or the other staff members quits.

It’s very hard to work with or for someone you have a conflict with. What’s more, because you were friends on a personal level, anything you entrusted to them is now fair game.

The conflict can quickly get out of hand, and all your perceived confidences are gone.

This is another reason not to put a strain on your work relationship by adding friendship outside work to the mix.


While being friendly is okay, spending time together outside of work diminishes your leadership.

Leadership Struggles When There are Favorites

Let’s say that as the manager, you establish a close personal friendship with one of your subordinates. The relationship grows. You hang out together after work, share stories together, meet each other’s families.

As the boss, this leaves you wide open to calls of favoritism in the workplace. And, indeed, you may even play favorites without knowing it.

You’ll permanently damage your company culture by having select employees who are friends and either openly or inadvertently playing favorites.

The rest of your employees will resent both of you and spend their shifts unhappy. People will get jealous, and gossip runs rampant. Your other team members feel left out and angry.

This throws off the entire employee morale and balance in the workplace.

So, again, being everyone’s friend, or even one person’s friend doesn’t work and causes conflict.

Leadership Means Knowing Your Team

You can take another tact, though. You can decide to be friendly with your employees.

Just because you can’t be their friend, doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. You can still be the leader in charge and still ask people how their weekend was, if their son won the soccer tournament, or if their daughter enjoyed her vacation.

Operate from the mantra, “I don’t need to be liked, but I am going to be likeable.”

There are definite benefits to be gained from getting to know your employees on a personal level. This means getting to know them but not getting too personal.

The key is to do this equally among your staff. This can happen in the breakroom or on lunch outings with your entire group.

By getting to know your team better, you can learn what drives them. You’ll see what they like to do in their spare time. Ultimately you better understand their talents and their motivations so you can provide the right kind of coaching to elicit the best results for your restaurant.

Take an interest in your staff, and you’ll engender their trust and enhance employee morale. Send cards for both the happy and the sad occasions. Show you care.

Just be cognizant of your boundaries. Any socializing should be done on a company-wide basis and not with select individuals. Maintain your role as the leader who also cares about his/her team.

Leadership is Professional

Another problem can arise when you share too much information with your employees. For example, if you’re going through a divorce or having a baby, there are some things you shouldn’t share.

You are crossing the friendship line when you share too much personal information. Your team is not your sounding block. Don’t complain about your boss. Don’t share intimate details of your professional life. Don’t share confidential restaurant information or info about other employees.

Maintain your own group of friends outside of work or with your own manager-level co-workers.  Be discreet and careful what you share.

Many leaders have been sidelined because they shared too much, and their team members lost respect for them.

Final Thoughts

It’s so easy to cross the line in either direction: either being too friendly or not nearly friendly enough.

If you’re too friendly, you lack the respect needed to lead and offer constructive criticism. If you’re completely unfriendly, you’ll encounter the same problems.

Both instances lead to unhappy staff and unnecessary turnover.

Your best bet is to hit a middle ground. Work to foster a trusting, honest, engaging, and communicative relationship with your employees that is friendly without compromising your leadership.

Remember that you’re the person handling performance reviews and conflict as it arises. You are the one that needs to set the company culture and engender loyalty in your staff.

According to the dictionary, a friend is a favored companion. It’s one person attached to another by affection. Yet, being friendly means showing interest and goodwill and being helpful.

So, you see that friends and friendly are different terms. You will be the best restaurant leader if you are friendly and not everyone’s friend.

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Images: Jonathan Borba and Clay Banks on Unsplash

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