I had a situation arise a few weeks ago when I had to share some constructive criticism with an employee and she blurted out, ‘You just don’t like me!’ That was a tough one. Not because I had to try to convince her that I did but because I had to tell her that it was irrelevant in a way that didn’t make her feel even more that I didn’t like her.
I am not sure if it is harder for women in business than it is for men but I have never really seen any of my male managerial counterparts deal with situations like these – at least not as often as I have seen my female colleagues do so but maybe the men just don’t share those situations – I don’t really know, all I can do is assume based on my own experiences.
Perhaps it is because women are expected to be softer, more nurturing and more compassionate and that often in positions of management these emotions rarely play into our decisions because regardless of our sex, business is still business.
Back in the day (and Gordy if you are reading this I know you will be laughing), we had a saying amongst my management team – I won’t repeat it word for word because it was less than politically correct but it was along the lines of ‘you don’t poop where you eat’ meaning that you do not mix business with pleasure. You don’t date employees, you don’t party with them until dawn, you don’t try to be their friend or try to convince them that you are their equal. It isn’t a matter of arrogance, it is a matter of survival, both for the manager and the company as a whole. You cannot effectively manage or supervise someone you are friends (or more with).
It’s not about being ‘better than’ anyone. It isn’t a personal issue or a judgment for or against anyone – it is about the position, it is about the authority and the line of responsibility. You may not want to admit or you may not even feel that there is a hierarchy in your company, but there is and there always will be. Someone has to be the boss. Someone has to be in charge, make the tough calls, someone has to have veto power and have the final decisions. A business can not survive if everyone is equal. Even cooperatives have managing directors and boards.
Some of the worst mistakes I have made in my career have come from becoming emotionally involved. Caring too much on a personal level about an employee that I lose the ability to discipline or even manage them at the detriment to my own position and company or the reverse – worrying too much about how my boss or supervisor felt about me – trying to hard to make them like me. I don’t care how many ‘exceptions’ people say that there are you cannot be someone’s boss and their friend, it never ever works, not in the long run. Eventually something has to give. Can you be friendly? Of course, I hope everyone always in. But joining the gang after work for a social drink to celebrate a victory or commiserate a loss is a far cry from partying with them all night. Asking them how their weekend was on Monday morning is much different than gossiping about what you did together Saturday night at the water cooler. If you’re families share Sunday dinners together how can you fire them if the need arises? The truth is that you can’t or at least you can’t successfully so you will either end up letting your friend get away with behaviors and performance issues no other staff member ever word – making it look like you are showing your friend favoritism because well – you are. Or you may actually fire them (or demote or discipline – whatever the case) at great emotional expense to yourself. It is a no-win situation.
I have been heard to say many times – ‘It’s not personal, it’s business.’ and I have been told many times that the comment makes me seem cold-hearted, standoffish and basically a bitch. Am I? Depends on who you ask but the truth is I live by that motto because I have learned through personal experience that mixing business and pleasure never ever works, so I don’t. I love my husband to pieces and rely on his intelligent, support and guidance in many of my business dealings but to the shock of many, he is not my business partner, he is my life’s partner. Just like he can talk to me about his job, I talk to him about mine, we offer advice or suggestions where we can but it ends there. The only business we are in together is our marriage and I wouldn’t risk that by mixing it with any company – not even Microsoft. I joke that my son is my ‘Tech support’ and he has helped me countless times in so many areas – but would I hire him and link his financial future and corporate growth with mine? Never. Never ever ever. He is my son, not my employee and he could never be both.
To me a friend is someone I can relax with, someone I can just be myself with – complain to when I am upset, bitch about my job, my kids, my husband and let them bitch to me. Someone I can share my insecurities and secrets with. Someone I can laugh and be silly with.
I can’t do those things with the people I work with or supervise.
Do I like them? It doesn’t matter.
It’s not personal – it’s business.
Originally published Thursday, December 4th, 2014, www.butterflyconsultations.com