Beware of the ‘Friend Zone’ with your employees…

I think we have all worked with, or around, a boss who is waaaaay to impersonal, right?  Like, he/she doesn’t really take time to connect on a personal level, is always way too busy, and just doesn’t really seem to care, right?  It is a pretty common occurrence, unfortunately.

Many who have been in that position swear that, when given a shot at leadership, they will be the exact opposite of that person.  He swears he will be a personable, attentive, loving boss that always cares about his employees, much like a best friend would.  He remembers this commitment so fiercely, they are really quite committed to it.  Sounds good, right?

Well…  there’s a downside.  A serious downside, if you let that pendulum swing too far the other way.

You see, a boss who is too cold, and impersonal, and detached can fail to build trust and thus not lead effectively.  But a boss who goes too far in trying to build trust can actually damage his/her own reputation and trust with others by entering the “friend zone”.

I think of it like this:


The danger zone on the left side is obvious – that’s the one we see frequently and try to correct.  The danger zone on the right side (what I will call the “friend zone”) is much less obvious, but in some ways almost equally as dangerous.

Imagine you are a boss, who in an effort to build camaraderie and trust (in addition to satisfying your own desire for something ‘social’ at work, to create a fun work environment) goes to lunch, hangs out after hours, invites others on some weekend activities like concerts, sporting events or other non-work activities.  Harmless enough, right?  Well, let’s step back and take a look… Continue reading

Motivation and Discipline: a case in point

(Guest Author Thomas Petersen for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

Several years ago I had the opportunity to work closely with a United States Air Force (USAF) jet demonstration team for a number of air show events. This team was widely recognized as one of the most polished and coordinated single plane demonstration teams in the USAF. They had a particular “Esprit De Corps”; team members could seemingly read each other’s minds. It was not unusual to see extraordinary individual effort on the team’s behalf. This was done over and over every week between April and September across the country. Each event was just as spectacular as the previous one and the crowds were always amazed.

Jet demonstration teams hold a status somewhat akin to a rockstar. The flight suit, team uniforms and precision set them apart as special individuals. Attitudes and actions of team members inspired confidence and understanding. They were the type of men and women you could easily be proud of. Combined with a modern fighter jet, it was hard to not quickly become enamored with the experience of meeting and watching this team.


At a particular event the team and I attended, the senior enlisted team member had coordinated with a local Air Force Base to provide ground support equipment and an airman for additional support. The selected individual was very motivated by being asked to be special support for the team. Imagine being asked to help your favorite music star for the weekend and being a part of the backstage events! The motivation served well – the equipment arrived early, cleaned and polished beyond its usual condition and the airman was quick to help and do whatever was needed. Simple motivation worked through the arrival day, pre-show flights, and the event day. As the show ended, all seemed well and the team retired to their hotel.


Sunday morning with the crowd gone and the thrill dissipating into the early morning twilight, it was time to pack up and move out. Per the preset plan the team was at the airfield (5 minutes early) dressed smartly in their uniforms with the same precision as the day before. However, the ground support airman was nowhere to be found. The team checked, loaded, and readied their gear with the same vigor and enthusiasm they exhibited during the show the day before. Then the demonstration jet was checked, preflight inspected and readied for launch. Still no ground support airman in sight. The pilot, who was the officer in command of the team, firmly taught a lesson. He pulled the senior member of the team who had coordinated the additional airman for the show aside. “Discipline and commitment are the hallmarks of our team” he said. “When you pull in someone who you do not know has those same high ideals you risk having what has happened here this morning occur”. Then they saluted, shook hands and launched the jets, again with the same precision routine that thousands of spectators had watched the day before.

Though I was only on the sidelines I will never forget this lesson. Exciting, high profile projects and assignments bring their own special motivation. But simple motivation is not enough to see things through every time. What happens when the work becomes laborious and repetitive? What happens when the accolades and attention are gone and it is up to you to carry on? Discipline, the will to achieve the goal with or without attention or excitement, will get you to the finish line. I have found this to be true regardless of where you are working. Discipline to achieve a goal often comes down to not the recognition we receive, but to the desire to “do it right” this time and every time.

tom-petersenThomas Petersen grew up in Sandy, Utah and studied Art and American History at the University of Utah.  After graduation he worked in the fast paced world of medical laser sales.  His experience with technology and client satisfaction in this competitive environment made a move into project management a natural fit.  He currently applies his talents with the Utah Department of Workforce Services.  His long interest in aviation led to volunteering on the Board of Directors for a Utah aviation museum and organizing annual air show events.  Grateful for the support of his wife and family, Thomas balances his career, passion for aviation and family time, always looking for an opportunity to help improve his community.

A simple framework for Career Development

Several years ago I had an informal discussion with a fellow HR professional, Michelle.  She is an expert in Org Development, etc. who shared her expertise with me as we sat at a meeting room table.  (PS – shout out to Michelle, who I have lost contact with, and with whom I’m not connected with on social media).

I was asking Michelle about her thoughts on career development, and what model(s) she used to effectively teach these principles.  She excitedly scribbled the following venn diagram on a blank sheet of paper for me, and it forever changed my perspective on the topic:



Here’s the gist: every “thing” we have to do at work – every task, every assignment, etc. – will fall somewhere in this diagram.  Is it something the company asks you to do, but you’re not good at it, nor do you like it?  Blue circle.  Is there something that you are passionate about but aren’t yet good at it, nor does the company need it?  Green circle.

At times there’s an overlap – for example, something you’re good at that the company needs you to do is the area where yellow overlaps with blue.

The BEST area is the small triangle in the middle where all three overlap – this means it is something you’re good at (skill), something you like (interest) and something the company needs you to do (company need).  That’s the sweet spot.

That’s the area of pure motivation, engagement, performance, and joy at work.  That’s the gold standard.

In my experience, the most important circle to be aware of (and also the trickiest to manage) is the green circle.  If you were to ask your team where most of their job lies on this diagram, they will probably say blue, yellow, or the overlap of the two.  Why does this matter?  Because it is outside the green circle.  If it is something they aren’t interested in at all, they will likely burn out, or grow disinterested, disengaged, or just stop doing their job.  #thatsaproblem

So, use this model of career development to begin discussions with those on your team – evaluate where different pieces lie, on the diagram, and talk about how to get them into the middle triangle.

This approach will change the focus slightly, instead of thinking about career development in terms of getting promoted to the next level, next position, etc. – it becomes about bringing as many things as possible into that middle section.  This will bring additional skills, experience and results that benefit all involved.

(Next week, I’ll share some examples to help walk through this in more detail…)

Try it our!  See where it goes.  I think the hardest part about career development discussions is just getting started.  This is a great point to start!