By Ayo Jimi

I once saw a movie in which a man worked in a company headed by his wife. He called the shot at home but painfully took orders from the same wife at work. Managing the daily reversal of roles and the routine switch from the personal to the professional became a routine source of emotional trauma for the couple, though it provided utmost pleasure for the viewers.

The above scenario, fictional as it might read, describes the reality a lot of leaders, managers or anybody in the position of authority contends with on a daily basis, though the players don’t necessarily have to be husband and wife. Sometimes, providence pushes you ahead of your peers and you get to manage your childhood friends for instance. These are the same people with whom you wine and dine in the evening, yet to whom you must give orders in daytime as a matter of official duty.

The real problem arises when they fail to execute your orders, either in absolute terms, or to specification, because they see you more as a pal than a boss. You are still the John the sleek they grew up with and not the Manager John your office says you are. This could be a real dilemma. I suffered a similar fate on Christmas day 2013 when a junior colleague publicly showed open contempt for my authority because I had conducted myself around him in the past few months as a pal not a boss. I learnt the hard way.

After few days of brooding over the ugly scenario it became a duty for me to do this piece on the subject of separating what is personal from what is professional. The question for any leader in any capacity is this: how personal must you get with those who must take orders from you? If getting to make the best out of those who work for us and with us demands being close enough to them to feel their pulse as humans and not treating them like robbots, how close is close enough?

My difficulty at attempting to answer this question stems from my understanding that the emphasis on management as a key to business productivity and long-term sustainability shifted to leadership because in some literature, management was too distant from those being managed to get the best from them. It became grossly inadequate to sit in the corner office and dish out orders. Walking the corridors to see things for yourself became trendy.  This paved the way for leadership. The effective leader then is now seen as one who not only shows the way to go but is also involved with the people under his leadership. In the face of this argument, how involved can the boss be with his subordinates?  That is a critical question every boss, or anybody with the potential and ambition of becoming one must strive to answer.

My direct answer to this question is that you cannot be too involved; you cannot be too close. If you carelessly blur the line between personal relationship and the official you will do so at your own peril. There is something called official distance. It is not measured in yards, miles or whatever units of measuring distance known to man. Yet it is a distance every manager, leader or boss must not only be able to gage but must also be able to keep to sustain authority and not make a mess of his office.

When you give orders or pass instructions in the line of duty who do your subordinates see? An authority? Or a pal? Nobody takes instructions from a pal. People take instructions from an authority.

My search for the most appropriate formula for the boss-employee relationship took me to a 1985 book written by W. Steven Brown, President of the Fortune Group, who detailed 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make. He suggested that at the very least in your employee-manager relations: Never do anything with an employee that you would not do with your firm’s number-one client or customer.

He added that when a manager is in the company of an employee, it is never entirely social.  The company picnic or Christmas party may be social for the employee, but for you it must be business. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t relax, enjoy yourself and have a good time – just as long as you remember that while you are with the people you manage, the situation is a professional, business relationship.

End of quote.

While I concur with the viewpoint submitted above, I also like to say it was rather too condensed a conclusion. I can picture the volumes of thoughts compressed into those few lines. Though the constraint of space will not allow me make a very elaborate extrapolation here, I still like to submit here that there are at least three areas of our personality that must be jealously guarded at every point of interaction with those we manage or lead.

  1. What You Say: of all the factors that negatively level the playing ground between the manager and those being managed, what comes out of the manager’s mouth is the most critical. Many of us want to have a good laugh, and if possible, to be the source of the laughter that has so much cheered the crowd. I have read about the charismatic leader who is fun to be with. Problem arises when there is no deliberate regulation of what to say and what not to say as the man or woman who calls the shot. I cringe when leaders at any level crack dirty jokes just for the fun of it. They seem to forget that what defiles a man is not what goes into the mouth but what comes out of the mouth. If a leader or manager therefore talks dirty, how much of respect is he expected to earn from his subordinates. It’s alright to crack jokes, but the overall impact on the valuation and evaluation of your personality especially by those you manage must be considered. If it takes away from you, don’t crack it. The thing with being humorous is that sometimes what makes a joke a good joke makes the source a cheap source. A boss that attempts to be the star comedian among his subordinates may win their applause and make them grin from ear to ear. But he may end up not being taken seriously when critical instructions have to be dished out. That is a key thought for all leaders, both serial and budding.
  2. What You Eat: it is not uncommon to find managers unwind with the people they manage when working hours are over. Fine. I am not advocating you rule out the possibility of dining in the company of junior colleagues. But what you eat when you are with them matters a great deal. Responsibility should be the name of the game. I once had a boss who would pack junior colleagues into the company’s official car and head off to liquor joint. He would not only get drunk but would also fund any of those he managed who would not mind getting drunk as well. The outcome would always manifest the morning after. Many of those who worked for him would not turn up for duty at all while those who showed up would do that late. Some would only come to work twice a week while many others would go AWOL. He sustained the posture of a chain smoker even during official hours. As far as I am concerned he remains the worst manager I have ever known in my life and I dare say that I will ever know. He fancied himself as having succeeded in being man of his people and by that I mean man of his fellow drunkards. But where the core functions of a manager were concerned, he was an absolute failure.
  3. How You Relate With The Opposite Sex: it is often said that love is a native of no land. For the naïve this is a justification for trying to be the lover and the boss in the words of W. Steven Brown. ‘It is wrong. It’s unethical. It’s an abuse of power,’ he maintained. If providence makes you and your spouse work in the same department where either of you is the boss as painted in my opening paragraph, that is a different ball game entirely. What is not acceptable is allowing yourself to be led into falling in love with someone you manage and hoping you would still be able to function effectively in your dual capacities as a boss and a lover. You will more likely fail than succeed at this. Emotions will take the place of reason, and it will create a great feeling of disaffection amongst the workforce all of which will seriously undermine your authority. But while I had my doubts about the appropriateness of having romance blossom between a manager and an employee, again W. Steven Brown bailed me out. His words: ‘if a manager falls in love with an employee, it doesn’t mean that the romance should not blossom, but it certainly should bloom in a different hothouse. The manager should get the employee transferred as quickly as possible, preferably before the first date – even before the first furtive glances are exchanged. While a different department will do, a position in a noncompetitive company is a better choice. Why? Because a manager has control over the rewards given to the people under him. So there must be no doubt about his ability to deal with his ability to deal rationally and without favorites.’

And who wouldn’t know his favorites in this scenario? Oga madam of course.

Got the gist? Keep moving!


About the author: grandsimms

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