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Can Leadership and Friendship Co-Exist?

November 01, 2005  |  by Mark G. Stainbrook - Also by this author

"Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation." - George Washington

When you are sitting doing surveillance, there is not a lot to do other than chat with your partners. It is one of the things I enjoy most about police work. I have learned more about every topic under the sun while sitting next to some of the finest people I will ever care to know.

On one such day, the topic turned to leadership. I was commiserating with my partner, also a sergeant, about the worst things we have seen leaders do. Complaining, of course, is a cop's third favorite pastime behind drinking coffee and eating.

He said to me, "Do you know the expression I hate most from leaders?"

"No, what?" I asked.

"I hate it when a leader says to his troops, 'I am not here to be your friend!' You know why?"

"No, why?" I asked. Sometimes you just need to let your partners vent.

"Because if I am not their friend, who is? The captain? He has 200 people to worry about. Officers may not always like what I have to say, or what I have to do, but I am always looking out for their best interest, whether they know it or not."

I have been thinking about that for a while. When I entered "leadership" and "friendship" in a search engine on a site that finds quotes, it gave me the "nothing found meets those criteria" response. I thought that was interesting. Is the only thing they have in common the last four letters?

I used the quote by George Washington for several reasons. First, he was a great leader, so his views on friendship seem important. By the way, appellation means "to be named." I had to look it up. So to me, the quote means that you can't call a relationship "friendship" until it has gone through adversity and you know that the person is really your friend. That can also be applied to leadership. Doesn't leadership also take time to grow? And doesn't leadership usually have to go through a "trial by fire" before it is accepted by those being led?

I think leadership and friendship happen to be very much related. My choice in friends revolves around them having loyalty, high character, morals and ethics, compassion, and personality. I look for the same in my leaders, and I try to provide it when I lead. My friends tend to be responsible, motivated, dedicated, and I know they care about me. The leaders I follow have the same traits. I could go on, but you get the idea.

The people who have been the hardest on me over the years have been my friends, because they have the highest expectations of me. None are shy about critiquing me or letting me know when I mess something up. If they can't tell me the truth, who can? I am just as hard on them, and they expect nothing less.

I have come to think of leadership in similar terms. I tend to be hard on the people I lead, but I make sure they understand it is personal; that I care about their well-being and I act in their best interest, whether or not they like me or my actions at the time. This is a tough storm to weather.

Sometimes leaders and followers truly have to "withstand the shocks of adversity" before either can put a name to their relationship. When they finally do meet and overcome adversity together, perhaps the words leadership and friendship can become somewhat more interchangeable.

Tags: Command Staff, Leadership


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