Leader or Friend?

Every time I see a mom and daughter walking down the street in matching mini skirts and skimpy tank tops, I can’t help but cringe.  Fairly or unfairly I’ve made the assumption that mom has worked so hard to be her daughter’s friend that she’s forgotten to be a parent.

She’s elevated the desire to be liked above the need to be respected.

I’m sure the motives were good.  She wanted to stay connected to her daughter’s life as she enters the horrendous teenage years.  She wanted to remain a confidant so that the important things would be shared.

But more often than not, this approach doesn’t work… at least for long.  Secretly her daughter wants her mom to be stronger, wiser, and more mature.  She needs a confident role model to look up to, not a wannabe peer.

In an attempt to connect, that mom has actually lost influence and respect.

I’ve seen leaders do this too.

In a desire to relate, we become buddies to those we lead.  We try to take our proverbial “boss” hat off and just be friends.  We socialize.  We jump into the office antics.

And some of that is good.  But there is a fine line.

Our teams want to feel like we’re the wiser, stronger, responsible ones of the bunch.  They want to feel the support of our strength.  They want to know that when times get tough, it’s gonna be ok.  We’ve got their backs.

There is a time and place for us to lighten up and have fun, but there are also important moments where we need to be a leader, not a friend.

What do you think?  Can you be both leader and friend?


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  • Aaron Conrad September 12, 2012  

    Great post as always Jenni. I agree 100% both as a leader and parent. My 12 year old son and I often share clothes (he’s that big…). Finding that balance between father, playmate and friend is  not as easy as it might seem. Especially when my maturity is often still stuck around being 12 years old too 🙂 In all seriousness, it is a challenge. I’ve learned that your teams (and kids for that matter) will respect you far more in the long run for standing on principle and leading from experience. The short term gains of friendship won’t outlast the greater vision of doing the hard for what is right. 

    • Jenni Catron September 12, 2012  

      Aaron, from what I’ve observed, you and Heather have found a great balance in how you lead your kids and I’m sure that carries over into your leadership too!

  • lindseyrnobles September 12, 2012  

    I think you can be both. And while yes, sometimes one role or another leads. There’s a constant give and pull. 

    I’ve been TOTALLY OBSESSED with Friday Night Lights lately and love how Coach Taylor and his wife mold individuals while loving them well and pushing the team forward. It’s an interesting insight into leadership dynamics. And it’s just good TV. 

    • Jenni Catron September 12, 2012  

      You are going to suck me into Friday Night Lights I just know it…

  • Michael J. Teston September 12, 2012  

    Absolutely. I learned this the hard way over the last 6 years. 

  • LinnaeHoppe September 12, 2012  

    Goodness. That is a really great question. One that I don’t think I know the answer to.I want my coworkers to know that I’m available and want them to feel like they can talk to me about anything. Really, it’s important to know your ROLE, communicate well, and being yourself! 

    • Jenni Catron September 12, 2012  

      Linnae, seeing your comment just makes me miss you 🙂

  • Cara Railey September 12, 2012  

    Thanks for posting this Jenni! It’s actually more my nature to keep the boss hat on, but the relational nature of ministry sometime makes me question myself or feel guilty about my instincts. This is a great reminder for me that my role is as a leader and it’s not always easy or fun, but it’s what God has for me right now and has equipped me to be.

    • Jenni Catron September 12, 2012  

      Cara, it seems that most of us lean to one extreme or the either, all business or too relational. I’m like you in that I tend to keep things all business more often than not.

  • Margaret September 12, 2012  

    great question! and hard too. I wonder if the key is balance. And I wonder if it depends on who you’re leading. It’s easy to be friends with a 5 year old and also be their leader, much tougher with a 40 year old. Again–great question!

  • Karla Renfro September 12, 2012  

    Wow. Talk about a fine line…Even using Jesus as an example, I am left wondering how do we pull this off… He calls us friends, daughters / sons, etc, yet at the same time, He gently demands to the leader and He is the one in control…
    I think of the folks in my life who are ‘leaders’, but not all are ‘bosses’,  I see what enables them to be both my friend and a leader is the fact that I respect them. They have earned my respect and whether we are joking, shopping, doing lunch, etc, I know they hold a certain authority in my life. They are the folks I call when I need wisdom. They are the ones I share stuff with for feedback and input…And these folks hold that authority because of who they are. I have seen them in action, I have seen the fruits of their walk with Jesus, I have seen them walk life (or parts of life) out as champs. They reflect Jesus, and help me to see Jesus, honor Jesus and know Jesus. They are the kind of people I want to grow to be more like (not in the sense that I want their life, but I want to be a person of character and maturity like them). 

    All that said, I think earned respect (not forced or positional respect, but earned respect) has a lot to do it. Because regardless of the activity or surrounding, I highly respect the people I respect and they sit in a position of leadership in my life. 

    I am not sure respect is the right word…but that’s the best I got right now. 🙂 

    • Jenni Catron September 12, 2012  

      Karla, I do think respect is a huge part.

  • Rick September 12, 2012  

    My heart says yes but my head says probably not. I have wrestled with this one a long time. Some of this has to do with those you are leading and their ability to maneuver the fine line. Proves to be a difficult one for all involved.

  • Rebekah L. September 17, 2012  

    Okay, big thought and question: what if it depends on the giftings, bent and personality God has given you? I’m a HUGE encourager. I will be your biggest cheerleader and behind you 120%. That garnets a lot of “friends” (but not for that purpose). When I am in the zone (encouragement zone), it’s 100% natural. Now, put me in charge of a bible study and I’ll “facilitate” and encourage and cheer you on to go deeper, see God clearer, and make the absolute most out of Scripture. BUT if I have to exhort or disengage is a bit trickier. So, can you lead and be a friend if your gifting of leadership is in the form of encouragement? I say, “Yes!” But it might take a huge dose of leaning on the Holy Spirit to keep the relationship healthy? 🙂

    • Jenni Catron September 17, 2012  

      Rebekah, great question. I certainly think your encouragement gift is a huge blessing to your leadership. That makes being leader and friend complimentary. Being friend and leader may get challenging when you have to provide correction or instruction that is necessary but not always fun. Just my thought… I think this is a delicate balance and is unique to every situation.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion!