Can a Good Leader be a Good Friend?

I wanted to write a follow-on to my article on the interview of Confirmtkt founders, but the events of Feb 14th  were too much to stay quiet about and I couldn’t stop myself from writing an open letter to the PM. Post that, my travel plans stole my focus for a couple of days, so here is the follow-on article as promised.

In their interview, Dinesh and Sripad recount how difficult it was to fire underperformers or team members that did not suit the role they were in. Their personal equations interfered with professional judgement and the venture faced the consequences. I believe that this is a key lesson in every founder’s journey to become a leader i.e. a moment where he/she has to reflect and ask themselves ‘can I be a good leader & a good friend to the same person?’

Discovering the answer to this question could be one of the most difficult experiences a leader might endure.

I have seen several leaders (read: founders) get too close to their followers (read: team members) and lose all objectivity (due to the close nature of the relationship). In all the examples, (including my own experiences), this is a disservice to their role as leader, the team and most importantly, the venture. In many cases it has led to the termination or a permanent alteration in a friendship.

This reminds me of a scene from the superhit movie Dangal wherein Aamir Khan plays the role of a strict wrestling coach (Mahavir Singh Phogat) to his daughters. In the scene, he is massaging his tired and sleeping daughters’ feet. His wife exhorts him that he is too tough on their daughters when they are awake but massages their worn-out feet while they’re asleep. He explains that he can either be a good father to his daughters or a good guru (read: coach), not both.  

Similarly, I believe that a person can either be a good leader or a good friend, not both. A leader has to utilize many tools to get the best out of his/her people, but those tools could fail at the altar of friendship. Therefore, before hiring a friend I always make it clear that our friendship would be over until the time we become partners because until then I would be doing a grave disservice to my friend.

26/2019

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2 thoughts on “Can a Good Leader be a Good Friend?

  1. This is a very good point. The next question is what do you do when and if you find yourself in a situation where you realize your personal relationship is compromising the performance expectations from the venture. How do you talk to your friend and how do you give constructive criticism? How do you drive your friend to perform better? Should you try that first? Should you figure out what type of motivation this person responds to? A little introspection may take the leader a long way.

    Although the success of the venture is the priority, the human connections are also as important and one cannot discard people. How does one balance this?

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective Swati.

      What I have found is that when the boundaries are not clear there is heartburn and confusion. Therefore while any good leader should be compassionate and understanding. He/she also needs to draw lines on where his compassion becomes his/her weakness.

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