A few of us were talking yesterday about a mutual friend who got sacked last week. The guy was very good at his job and frequently exceeded both expectations and “reach” goals so performance wasn’t really the issue. He is a genial sort of guy who can have an edge from time to time but then again, can’t we all? On the surface it was a mystery to many of us as to why he was let go since there really weren’t any of the political problems one sometimes sees from new management or a shifting of responsibilities.
As it turned out, what did him in was crossing the line.
You might have experienced going out after work with a mixed group of peers, subordinates, and bosses. In that setting it’s normal for the titles to evaporate and for bonds to grow among the staff (not in a creepy way!). This can help the group get through crises later on – people know one another as the individuals they are and not as spaces on the org chart.
That said, there is still a line. One guy said it best using the military as an example. Even though the privates and the officers are out drinking together, there is always a chain of command that you can’t ignore. Once in a while, I had to call a younger member of the staff into my office to remind them that while I was their friend, I was also their boss and the first fact doesn’t wipe out the second. Directing a rude remark to me when you’re asked to do something which might be appropriate to say to a friend in private becomes inappropriate when you do so in front of the entire staff – they might not have an understanding about our relationship and take it as a license to ignore requests made of them. That’s crossing the line.
From what I could gather, this is exactly what the guy did – ignored, challenged, and demeaned authority in a fairly public way even though those he was defying and demeaning were people he perceived as his friends and colleagues. He might have thought he was being funny and staying focused on his job; the higher-ups took it was insubordinate and rude, and even though they identified it as an issue, he didn’t stop. Now, he has no chance to correct it.
I always considered the folks who worked with me as friends. That said, I was their boss first and the friendship at times had to come second. It’s a line neither of us can cross on a regular basis, at least not until the work relationship changes. I’m proud that I’m still friends with a lot of my former subordinates even though we no longer work together. Good friendships can survive a lot – even supervisors – but they can’t survive crossing that line.