Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Proverbs 27:6 (KJV)
Lead first and be a friend second, for an effective and efficient enterprise understands that leadership trumps friendship. As the old saying goes, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Wise and intentional leadership is necessary for the health of the organization;leadership is watered down when friendships dictate strategic direction. Friendships should forge the team but not unduly dilute excellent outcomes based on courageous leadership decisions. If a leader is preoccupied with what a friend may think or do, then he risks diminishing his decision for the sake of sparing someone’s feelings. Politics are not the plumb line. The values and principles of the organization are the standards by which leadership decisions are made.
Friendship can become a fruit of wise leadership but it is not meant to drive wise leadership. Indeed, loyalty to friends is an important and valued attribute of an effective leader. But do not allow loyalty to cloud your rationale of what’s best for the team. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for the team and your friend is to either fire him or reassign him. Be sure your leadership is grounded in principle so your friendships will not get in the way of doing what’s right. Let a friend know up front how much you value him, but not to the detriment of what’s best for the business or ministry.
Friends can be the hardest or the easiest to lead. It all depends on the expectations of the parties involved. Does your friend perceive you as a partner or a boss? Is your perception of your friend one of high value or just one of expedience that gets results? Lead first in humility, courage, and clarity. Let your friends know up front what you value as a leader and how they fit into the big picture of vision and the success of fulfilling that vision. Always ask, “What’s best for the team?” instead of “What does my friend want?, or how will this affect my friendship?” You lead first by defining the role of friendship on the team, and you keep leadership a priority by not playing favorites. This stragtegy promotes teamwork and defuses jealousy as everyone is treated fairly.
Lastly, wise leaders make hard decisions, even when it adversely affects a friend. This protects the integrity of the organization, church, or business. Paul felt this tension when he decided that his friend, John Mark was not mature enough for the responsibility of a mission trip: “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work” (Acts 15:37-38). Balancing leadership and friendship isn’t always easy, but it's necessary.