Control is overrated. Your unconscious need for it could be holding you back.
Nate was a CEO and partner in a manufacturing startup who contacted me to help him improve his management team’s communication and help them become more efficient. Poor communication and inefficiency were symptoms, but they weren’t the real problems. The eight-person management team was full of friendships, and they brought those friendships to work with them. They called each other “dude” and “buddy.” Sometimes the CEO and the CFO bickered as if they were a couple.
Friendships at Work Can Be a Problem
Leadership sets the tone, and the tone was, “We’re all friends here, so just do the best you can.” As you can imagine, accountability was weak. While the company had written values about excellence, ownership, integrity, etc., how it operated was quite different. I call this the “embodiment gap,” and most companies have one, but this one was wide.
When someone wasn’t doing their job, they’d hire someone else to shore up the situation (a luxury they had as a funded startup). Keeping the energy high and relationships smooth were most important. Managers had chats that they thought created accountability, but when I talked to employees afterward, they clearly hadn’t gotten the message.
You Can Turn It Off
When I suggested that the management team suspend their friendships during work hours and pretend they didn’t know each other as an accountability exercise, they balked — for several years. Meanwhile, things got worse. Sales slumped, but there was no one singularly accountable. They lost key people who didn’t get the mentoring they needed. Friends of the CEO were accused of being toxic during exit interviews, but nothing was done about it.
I continued to sell my “leave the friendships at the door” idea to the CEO, but he wouldn’t buy it. We focused on other things, but I kept up my marketing. Some things got better, but because he wouldn’t address the root problem, a lot got worse.