Leaders have an interesting dilemma when it comes to their relationships with those they lead. Certainly, all healthy leaders want a deeply collegial relationship where there is a high degree of trust, collaboration and friendly relationships. However, a leader is not “one of the boys or girls” even though many leaders try to be that out of their need for popularity or affirmation.
Leaders who want to be the “best friend” of those they lead actually lose much of their leadership capital and it confuses roles. There is a difference between “best friends” and “leader.” The “best friend” role is based solely on relationship and common personal interests and no leader who leads an organization of any size can be best friends with all those they lead. Leadership is based on common agreement to a missional agenda, not that we are all best friends.
Leaders press into issues that are sometimes uncomfortable and need to say things that are defining and keep the team focused on the missional glue that holds them together. To the extent that I as a leader need to be “liked” by those I lead, I will avoid those conversations that would prevent me from being “one of the boys.” This is a reflection on the insecurity of a leader more than anything else – and many ministry leaders are deeply insecure.
Wise leaders actually have a sense of a certain “social distance” that they maintain with those they lead. There are situations where I am “one of the boys” but I am always the leader of those I lead. That is the role that my team needs me to play and wants me to play. They are less interested in whether I am their best friend than they are concerned that I am leading the organization in ways that allow us to accomplish the work God has called us to tackle together.
Leaders are neither simply “one of the boys or girls,” nor are they dictators. They develop highly collegial, missionally minded team where the strongest glue is the common ministry they are committed to. But they play the role they are called to play – that of leading the team and keeping the team focused. They do not allow their personal insecurities to cause them to default from leadership to merely friendship. The two are not one and the same!