I’ve been asked a number of times if a supervisor can really be friends with their co-workers while at the same time being the boss. Some say it’s not a good idea in general or that supervisors should keep work and personal life completely separate.
These are valid points since, first and foremost, a major concern can be the perception of favoritism from the supervisor that may result in a possible breakdown of perceived authority.
Authentic leadership fundamentally rests on the relationships leaders have with their crew. If, in general, a leader is stand-offish and is seen as separate from the crew, they will have a more challenging time developing relationships with their people. The key point here is that a leader doesn’t have to become someone’s friend to have a good working relationship, but the lines can get blurred working on yachts.
The main issue compared to a lot of other work situations is that yacht crew spend a lot of time together in close quarters, sometimes with little chance of getting away. The reality of the job puts pressure on everyone as they try to find a work/life balance. It’s this challenge that can put pressure on us about how to be friends with our crew mates.
Yes, supervisors and leaders can be friends with their co-workers, but there are a few things that need to be done up front to avoid issues later. In general, a supervisor needs to clearly lay out their expectations with their crew about how the work/friend relationship will develop. But it’s not easy to do, is it? Use these steps as a guide to help limit the discomfort you may feel in this type of situation.
In your conversation, ask if they’ve noticed any awkwardness or discomfort. Say something like “Have you noticed a change?” or “I don’t know what this means for our friendship going forward.” Demonstrate that you’re open to talking about what’s happening between you and your co-worker. This is a giant step toward creating a “new normal.”
Have the emotional courage to work through this process and you’ll be seen as a leader who isn’t afraid of difficult situations. Keep these six steps in mind and you’ll find that being a friend, co-worker and leader isn’t as hard as you thought.
Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (www.marineleadershipgroup.com) delivering leadership training workshops and coaching. He holds a master’s degree in leadership and spent years working his way up from deckhand, to first officer on yachts. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.