1. Hader, Richard RN, CNA, CHE, CPHQ, PhD, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief

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Developing positive interpersonal relationships with your team is vital to your success as a leader. It's important to get to know your staff members as individuals, learn about what's important to them, show interest in their development, and help guide and counsel them. When staff members have trust and confidence in a leader, they're often comfortable with sharing personal and even intimate details of their lives. As a consequence of these bonds, leaders can become more than just professional colleagues with team members, resulting in friendships that develop into strong personal relationships reaching beyond the work setting and into private life. As a leader, am I allowed to have friendships with my staff that go beyond a professional acquaintance?

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Alliances with staff can build camaraderie, enhance teamwork, and help you achieve unit and organizational objectives. As a leader, you need to do everything possible to facilitate these goals; don't shy away from them in fear of becoming too involved with your staff. Knowing how to motivate and inspire your individuals to reach their full potential requires frequent, positive interactions and mutual sharing to facilitate trust and respect. These characteristics are similar to those that form the foundation of friendships, so it's only natural and common that many staff members and their leaders become friends.


But friendship with your reports is a difficult relationship to manage. No matter the depth or longevity of the relationship, in the work setting you're still the boss. Your role, responsibility, and position requirements don't differ for those with whom you have friendships. Fairness, honesty, and objectivity must always take precedence. Favoritism will quickly be recognized by other team members and will destroy your team's ability to succeed.


It's important that you and your friend-report have a discussion and agreement regarding the ground rules of your relationship. There should be no expectation by either of you that special treatment or consideration will be given in the work setting. Personal conversations should remain confidential between you and your friend and shouldn't be discussed in the presence of other colleagues. Exhibited behavior that's too comfortable can be intimidating to others. Maturing the relationship to the point that you can easily separate personal actions and decisions from professional ones is difficult but can be done if there's a collective respect for each other's opinions and role responsibilities.


Many years ago, my wife and I both worked in the same facility, I as a manager and she as a clinical nurse specialist. The nursing staff was involved in a lengthy and difficult job action. I worked in the hospital, she on the picket line. During this trying time, we learned that it was a necessity to keep our professional and personal lives separate. We discussed the issue but made sure we remained tolerant and respected each other's viewpoint.


Mixing professional and personal lives should be taken seriously, as there's considerable risk you could lose your job, your friend, or both. If handled correctly, though, you, your staff members, and your organization will be the better for it.


Richard Hader


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