Q: I appreciate your advice about coaching
and working one-on-one with
people who report to me. But
what do I do when some of the
people I manage are my friends
outside of work? And how do I get
my boss to value me as well
as my team? It seems like there’s more to
this than just managing the people who report to me.
In the last issue our ad hoc group of seasoned supervisors
gave some constructive advice to help you
get on your feet as “the new boss.” These people—representing both outside agencies and in-house
departments in publishing, advertising and design—did not always agree with each other on how to
handle certain situations.
Relationships at work can be a particularly
sticky topic, and the “best” way to handle such
circumstances will be affected by your work environment
and your own personal style and comfort
level. (For additional insight on the topic, see “Office
Entanglements,” Dynamic Graphics, V11N1, p. 16).
Our group of experts agrees your new role
means you probably already have what it takes to be
a leader, and if you go into the situation with things
like good intentions, pure motives, self-confidence
and humility, you’ll do just fine. Meanwhile, here are
a few things to keep in mind:
BALANCING PERSONAL AND
Be friendly, but be a boss.
Go to lunch or have coffee with employees every
so often, so you can visit in a casual atmosphere.
Do not become too personal with those who
report to you.
Foster a warm, supportive environment, but
watch out for favoritism or a personal relationship that
could impact your working relationship.
It is vitally important to be fair and just to every
team member equally, regardless of the relationship
or friendship you may enjoy with individuals outside
the office environment.
Keep feelings and projects in two different
“baskets,” but know that both need managing. To
find out which basket you’re in, ask yourself: What’s
the objective? If it’s about the font size, it’s about the
project. If it’s about keeping someone happy, you’re
in the other basket. Deal with feelings separately, in
Beware of personal relationships that could
give the appearance of romantic liaisons. People
will automatically assume that “something is going
on,” whether it is or isn’t true.
If you choose to have friendships outside the
office with some of your underlings (or even your
own peers), it is really important that you don’t cross
the line with sensitive topics. Don’t share confidences
or privileged information. If you find yourself saying,
“I shouldn’t be sharing this,” stop yourself and don’t
divulge the information.
If you are in a position of being able to promote
(or terminate) others, make sure you are absolutely
fair and impartial. This means not penalizing or
favoring people you have a friendship with.
Beware of the tendency to be such a hardworking
boss that you sacrifice your own life balance. If
you’re stressed out from doing too much or spreading
yourself too thin, you won’t be available to your team
when they really need you.
Keep your private life private. Drama doesn’t
belong at work.
THE BOSSES’ BOSS
Remember, your performance will be affected
by the performance of your team. Your new job
includes getting them to stay productive and, of
course, highly creative. See the team as your biggest
asset. You will be judged by how well the team can
perform; it’s worth investing some of your time to
ensure the team’s strength and success.
As a new boss, you’ll understandably want to
jump right in and impress your boss. New ideas and
processes are good, just don’t turn your department
upside down doing things your way. Implement
change slowly. Let your team get to know you and
trust you before you make new rules.
Always run any suggestions for major changes
by your boss. It would be embarrassing to implement
radical, creative ideas for running your department,
only to have your boss veto all your ideas.
Be strong. Don’t leave the door open for others
to assume your role. Provide positive support and solid
decisions to your staff so they view you as their leader.
Recognize warning signs: For example, if your
boss gets bad news about your department before
you do, it could be a sign that you have a serious
communication problem. Either people are not giving
you the unvarnished truth or you are not asking
the right questions.
If you are lucky enough to have a boss who is
a good supervisor, ask him specifically for coaching
help and advice about dealing with your subordinates.
Not only will you gain valuable insight and
information, you will endear yourself to your supervisor
for acknowledging his strengths.
And finally, Abe Goldstein, creative director at
Trilix in Des Moines, Iowa—who is also a jazz
music aficionado—had this insight about managing
a creative group: Want to be a great leader?
Just ask yourself WWMDD (What would Miles
Davis do)? If you want to inspire creativity in your
team, think like a jazz combo leader. Know how to
mix and match personnel, allow them to think on
their own, mentor them and create something meaningful.
1. Establish a vision and provide staff members
with the freedom to make any responsible decision to achieve that goal. In other words, let your people
know the tune, rhythm and harmony and then let
2. Encourage people to listen closely to the ideas of
others and build on those thoughts. That’s what a
great jazz soloist does.
3. Remember not everyone is a soloist. A good team
requires a solid rhythm section to provide support.
4. Allow your players their time in the spotlight.
Miles Davis used to walk off the stage when other
musicians took their solos.
5. Keep changing the “tune” from time to time to
keep ideas fresh and attract the right people. Miles
moved from bebop to cool to modal to fusion, and
stimulated the creativity of a new breed of players.
6. Recognize a bad fit and make changes when
needed. People who are in a position that does not
suit them become bad employees; the sooner they
can be redirected, the better. If there is no appropriate
position available, do everyone a favor and allow
that person the opportunity to find a better gig.
7. Control impulsive behavior. Good managers
don’t become emotional; they solve problems and
strengthen the team in the process. You never saw
Miles lose his cool.
So now that you know what it takes to be a leader/supervisor, start swinging.