Skip main navigation

Why has it changed?

Read this article about why the transition from friend to leader changes the dynamic
Forest pathway
© Public Domain CC0

Developing friendships with work colleagues is a very common way of building social networks and it has many positive aspects.

Research has demonstrated that friendships at work contribute to the benefit of organisations. When employees have a strong friendship at work, this has been found to correlate with:

  • more highly engaged workers.
  • greater satisfaction with pay levels.
  • greater employee recommendations about the organisation or company’s services.
  • employee loyalty, such as aspirations for long-term employment with the organisation. (Ellingwood, 2001).

The research therefore shows that fostering friendships should be a management priority. However, as seen in the earlier joke, the transition from being a team member to team leader can generate a range of challenges, and in particular, bring new complexities to former friendship relationships with co-workers. It can be immensely difficult to exude a sense of authority over people who were previously co-workers at the same level, and to find the right balance between “friendly and approachable” with leadership requirements for excellence and output.

Perhaps you once shared complaints about the boss with one another, and now find yourself wondering (or knowing!) that former co-workers now complain to one another about you. Some may expect preferential treatment; some may resent the change in your status; others may not afford you respect (Gentry, 2015).

As such, former work-friendships take on new qualities, and sometimes, may even end. Gentry, Logan, and Tonidandel examined challenges faced by almost 300 first time managers (FTMs) and found that transitioning from friendship to boss was cited by more than half of their participants (59.3%) as the largest hurdle they faced. One FTM commented:

It’s hard for me to adjust to managing people who used to be my co-workers. Sometimes I feel that people don’t take tasks and projects as seriously as they should because they think they can use their friendly relationship with me to their advantage. I’m having a hard time drawing this line because we used to work at the same level.

(as cited in Gentry, 2015, para 5)

Gentry, B. (2015). Navigating the Transition from Friend to Boss. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 2–4.
© University of Southern Queensland
This article is from the free online

Transitioning From Friend To Leader

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now