The Fine Line Between Friendship and Leadership

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 7.37.23 AMThe old school of leadership will tell you that leaders and bosses can’t be friends because it may lead to favoritism.

The new school of leadership says there is a way to be friends without compromising relationships or undermining alliances.

Leadership is all about relationships—the connections we make, the friendships we create. So how can friendship and leadership coexist?

In fact, the two types of relationships have more in common than you’d expect. Here are some of the shared traits:

Altruism. Like friendship, true leadership involves selflessness and concern for the well-being of another. It may mean putting your people ahead of yourself, looking out for the other person, or acting in a way that benefits another. It comes down to bringing out the best in those you lead and befriend.

Loyalty. Both friendship and leadership are about devotion. Allegiance and faithfulness call for us to be steadfast and dependable. Loyalty requires responsibility and commitment.

Honesty. Like friendship, true leadership having integrity, encouraging others to speak up and tell their truth. It means expecting leaders to be honest and frank (although never unkind) with their feedback and communication. When we are able to communicate honestly, we are holding up a mirror to each other that makes for the best leadership and friendship.

Trust. Like friendship, true leadership trust means having confidence in each other, the faith that if anything goes wrong you will be there for each other, and the certainty that no matter how much you err or fail you will never be left behind. Trust in leadership and friendship gives us someone to rely on.

Reciprocity. Like friendship, true leadership is a give and take. It reflects the practice of sharing and exchanging, knowing how to give and take with generosity.

Compassion. Both friendship and leadership bring concerns about the suffering of others. It’s an attitude that calls us to reach out when there needs to be a listening ear and to be open when there needs to be understanding—all with sympathy, warmth, and kindness. Great leadership involves respect and great friendship involves tenderness; both open our hearts to others.

Maybe the philosophers said it best:

Emerson said friendship is supreme truth of truth and tenderness.

Aristotle said friendship it is holding a mirror to each other.

Thoreau said friendship is the grand stake for which the game of life is played.

C.S. Lewis said friendship is one of those things that gives you a value for survival.

So as you walk the fine line between friendship and leadership, remember the importance and interconnectedness of both.

Lead From Within: As leaders, let’s cultivate relationships were we match their efforts, respect their hustle, support their ambition, protect their heart, value their loyalty and uplift their spirits. When we do, the fine line between leadership and friendship is rendered invisible.

N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R

The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness is being released by Portfolio May 2017.

26 Responses to “The Fine Line Between Friendship and Leadership”

  1. Matthews Otalike

    23. Jun, 2015

    Dear Lolly,

    I thought in agreement with you that friendship is necessary in the building of relationships. Such friendship does not undermine work and does not lead to favoritism in ethical and transparent leadership.

    All through my leadership we built relationships across all strata of our organisation in every location. It led to trust and increased productivity. Our dictum was if you believe in the leader give your best on the job and trust his judgement to motivate.

    I appreciate your Lead from Within thoughts on leadership.


    Reply to this comment
  2. Susan Mary Malone

    23. Jun, 2015

    I always love your insights, Lolly. You make such great sense, and warm my heart at the same time. What a different world you are helping to create.
    Thank You!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Garren Fagaragan

    23. Jun, 2015

    Aloha Lolly,

    I like how you beautifully dissolved the apparent fine line between friendship and leadership in this post.

    I enjoy how your posts initiate self reflection in me.

    You continue to deliver life changing content and I appreciate that.

    Thank you!

    Reply to this comment
    • Matthews Otalike

      24. Jun, 2015

      Garren, I agree with you. Lolly’s introspection write ups guide in self reflection and I have gained so much.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Dawood Chishti

    23. Jun, 2015

    The purity of soul creates new bonds and finds shared values even in difficult environments. This post is the reflection of your inner world. BZ!

    Reply to this comment
  5. Matthews Otalike

    24. Jun, 2015

    Type your comment here…

    Reply to this comment
  6. Matthews Otalike

    24. Jun, 2015

    I thought the line between friendship and leadership is thin if there is any. Friendship influence helps in building relationships. Friendship brings about belief and trust leading to relationships that facilitates growth. In ethical and transformational leadership, friendship cannot lead to favoritism or conduct that will undermine team building and performance.

    Another great piece from Lolly.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Duncan M.

    24. Jun, 2015

    This article is so well detailed that there is not much to add. However, there is one thing I want to point out. I also believe that leadership is about building relations, but they all must be based on honesty. It is completely natural to develop friendships as long as their purpose is not selfish.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Panteli Tritchew

    24. Jun, 2015

    “Leadership is all about relationships—the connections we make, the friendships we create.” Love the shared traits that you identify between friendship and Leadership: altruism, loyalty, commitment, honesty, trust, faith, generosity and compassion.
    These are traits that serve us well and allow us to serve others as well. Appreciate the growth provided here every Tuesday, Lolly! (Well, in this case, Wednesday.)

    Reply to this comment
  9. Ray Brown

    27. Jun, 2015

    I really enjoyed this post Lolly. In both good quality leadership and friendship there needs to be authenticity and vulnerability. In many cases leadership and friendship fall short due to an absence of one or both of these traits. Thinking that leadership precludes friendship is to misunderstand the true role of the leader.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Gabriel Njonjo

    27. Jun, 2015

    Thanks for the post. I wholly agree that leaders and bosses needn’t be our foes. iNSECURITY makes some jittery and uncooperative but we can overcome that through taking time to appreciate each other’s good.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Sampathkumar Iyengar

    28. Jun, 2015

    Friendship is the Best SHIP and can take everyone along. Thanks again for a great article

    Reply to this comment
  12. John Paul

    28. Jun, 2015

    Thanks, Lolly. Thank you for being my friend! John

    Reply to this comment
  13. Dawold Chishti

    29. Jun, 2015

    The true leadership activates the sensors and ignites the potentials of theirs for a common purpose. It develops new bonds and channels of actualisation. It’s great call, Lolly!

    Reply to this comment
  14. Bettina Reinhold

    05. Jul, 2015

    Thank you for your great thoughts about leadership and friendship. It is something I often think about and sometimes it is not that easy to get along with both. But I am always believing in that is possible and very important.

    Best from Germany

    Reply to this comment
  15. Mitch Mitchell

    11. Jul, 2015

    I think any leaders going into a job with intentions of befriending employees is going to fail. Having said that, I believe that once things have been established, and the leader knows both who the valuable people are and who they might be able to have honest rapport with, that friendships might be able to develop with a few people.

    However, there always has to be some separation to make sure leaders will be comfortable in doing the right thing, even if someone they see as a friend might disagree. If that’s going to be a problem, it’s best not to be friends. The job always comes first at the job.

    Reply to this comment
  16. besta essays

    30. Jul, 2015

    I personally think that there is really a barrier between these two. Leadership is a thing and a situation associated with hard decisions wherein not all people will understand. If there is a relationship that serves as a hindrance for a good leadership, that is going to hard. People nowadays should choose wisely, or on the other hand, discover the real formula to balance both worlds.

    Reply to this comment
  17. Dawood Chishti

    01. Aug, 2015


    It’s uniquely beautiful reflection of your wisdom. Friendship provides synergy and vitality in your work as well as your relationship. It’s precious stone in your box of relations.


    Reply to this comment
  18. Dawood Chishti

    01. Aug, 2015


    Let’s have a new beginning!


    Reply to this comment
  19. Joey Mendoza

    06. Aug, 2015

    Thanks for sharing this. Great Read and I agree – “Leadership is all about relationships—the connections we make, the friendships we create. “

    Reply to this comment
  20. Shantanu Saran

    02. Oct, 2015

    I am an ardent follower of your” Lead from Within” insights Lolly and appreciate each of them thoroughly. Your leadership thoughts and insights have really helped me in my leadership role. Thanks and please continue sharing the same.

    I strongly believe that leadership is about relationships and friendship; and as long as there correct attitude, intent and approach, there will always be a balance b/w leadership and friendship.

    I have personally gained a lot in having one of the best relationships with my leaders/ mentors; and follow the same with my team which has yielded best results for all.

    Reply to this comment
  21. Becky Vance

    18. May, 2017

    Love your thoughts on leadership. They are spot on and so validating and helpful. Thank you for helping me become a much more self-aware leader!

    Reply to this comment
  22. Mike Wilson

    21. Sep, 2017

    The comments in the article specifically on “Lead from within” validate my inner thoughts on this much talked about topic. When I served in the USMC, there were rigid guidelines restricting fraternization to the extent we had separate quarters, clubs and housing facilities. Initially, I thought the separations were incentives to motivate the aspirations of younger Marines.
    The separations, however, were such that relationships beyond mission and duty, many saw as inappropriate thus limiting the opportunities whereby productive relationships could flourish. While the delineation of duty and friendship seemed at that time- 1978-1984- appropriate to maintain discipline and lines of lines of authority, relationships would tend to take a life of its own despite the restrictions.
    When people share a common sense of purpose, mission, vision, and values, they are more likely to coalesce, working well as teams for the good of an organization and its mission. My views beyond the rigid rules never compromised a mission or duty to responsibility as a leader. If fact, it is the applied relationship principle, even to this day, that serve to fortify the bonding of teams I have served; each with the common resolve to meet our goals with care given one to the other as friends generally do.
    It is far easier in my opinion to move someone regarded and treated as a friend into action, to get things done, than is an unfamiliar person called upon only when needed in an official capacity. During my service in the Corps, I found the team-leaders who defied the systemic norms of that time, on and off duty, had the units richest in esprit de corps, productivity and discipline. This empirical observation underscores the content value of Ms. Daskel’s insightful article.
    To the heart of this article, in my opinion, is the need to realize attributes associated with friendships are synonymous with those embodied in a true leader, all of which are vital to the development of productive relationships. The emotionally intelligent leaders of today tend to recognize and promote a climate where the two can coexist.

    Reply to this comment


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