Trying to be like a (fun) boss?

For so many of us who put a priority on seeking approval from others, the temptation to be seen as the “fun boss” is super alluring. It’s the best of both worlds! Everyone’s happy and working their butts off while bathing in a stew of connection and camaraderie. Your supervisors are happy with your performance and your team sees you as a friend and support to their careers. They all toast you on the reg. You’re invited to lavish dinner parties and sought out as a confidant.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

But hold on. Who can actually say they’ve been in this position? Who can say they’ve been able to walk the line between authority and BFF as a leader of people? Is this a unicorn situation? It seems there’s a pretty significant dark side that shows up when leaders try too hard to make their teams happy and be seen as the fun-loving social boss.

It turns out it can make you more vulnerable to unethical practices. Those of us for whom people-pleasing and other-orientation is a default pattern, taking a leadership path can put us in some uncomfortable, ethically-ambiguous situations. Our judgement for what is best for the organization versus what is best for the relationship could be compromised.

I remember, during my days managing restaurants, my desire to be seen as nurturing and a “friend” sometimes overshadowed what I knew to be best for the operational effectiveness of the establishment. If someone came to me with short notice asking for a day off, for instance, I would almost always grant the request, even if I couldn’t fill the spot (taking on the responsibility for filling the spot was also a marker of this pattern, btw.) So, we would run short, making everyone miserable: the staff, the customers, and most importantly, the owner. I also began to be seen as very lenient and kind of a pushover. Sweet…

So, what can we do?

A recent article in HBR provides some ideas for those of us for whom this might be an issue.

  • We don’t have to seduce our employees. Us approval seekers are usually very good at turning on the charm to woo our unsuspecting partners into liking us. Of course, this is a valuable social skill that can create connection and bonding, but when it’s used to the point of undermining our authority, it can become a problem. So, be real, but dial back the charisma if you want your supervisees to trust that you’ll do the right thing for the organizations and their careers.
  • Performance over popularity. The people who put us in leadership positions need to be able to trust that we are focused on what’s best for the organization. If we come across as “too charismatic” or are seen as approval-seeking, it could undermine faith in our ability to perform at a high level. So, prioritize your performance goals, and most likely the relationships will work themselves out and you’ll be seen in a positive light anyways. Win-win.  
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  • Keep some distance. Let your team do their freakin’ work. Approval seekers often find it difficult to do this, since they thrive on the energy they get from being acknowledged and appreciated. The problem is, if you’re constantly interrupting your team for your own needs, performance will dip and you’ll kill momentum. Make sure they know you’re there if needed, but give them some space to do what you need them to do for the organization.
  • Let it simmer. When someone is new to a leadership role, it’s natural to be focused on creating positive working relationships. But you can smother the team if you’re too focused on this one aspect to the detriment of performance. Take your cues from the tip above and keep some distance in the nascent stages of your tenure as a leader. Let the work happen, observe how your team works, and allow the relationships to develop organically. It will lead to a stronger connection in the long run.
  • Don’t take credit too quickly, or too often. Approval seekers love an opportunity to point out successes in an approval gambit to their bosses. Unfortunately, this behavior can come across as transparently attention-seeking and have deleterious effects on their perception of you. What’s more, your team might feel left out of the congratulatory loop if you are frequently stealing their thunder. So, give credit to the team and let some time pass and momentum build. You might be surprised at how relationships strengthen and your performance skyrockets. After all, what’s more impactful: a Dixie cup of success, or a firehose to the face?

Follow these tips and you’ll find it easier to stay in line with the organizational mission and put everyone in a better position to find success. Also, pro tip, you’ll still feel the approval! In fact, you’ll feel it even more strongly, because you didn’t have to seek it out; it happened organically.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How do you create the balance between performance and relationships? How are the two separate? Linked? Comment below if you have thoughts, and I know you do!

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