Everybody’s Friend, Nobody’s Leader

Women and Relational Leadership

Sharon and Tracy had worked extremely well together for many years. Both were surprised when Sharon was promoted, effectively leaving Tracy under her supervision. Sharon didn't notice the initial subtle changes to the relationship, she was just so pleased about the promotion and the opportunity to try out her ideas. So it took her a while to recognise the signs of aloofness and the slightly cutting comments Tracy made to any of Sharon's suggestions. These days it felt as if Tracy was actively avoiding her, spending as little time as possible in her company. In addition, Tracy always seemed to be in conversation with others when she should be working. It was beginning to affect the entire team who were also becoming increasingly uncooperative. Sharon knew she would have to do something soon or risk an all-out revolt, but Tracy was her friend, they had been through a lot together and she felt awkward about pulling rank at a time when Tracy probably needed her friendship more than ever . . .

A desire for friendship is good, most of the time! However, when our need for friendship exceeds what a human relationship is designed to deliver, then we are in trouble. Men and women search for levels of intimacy and security in different ways. However, many still expect someone they know, such as a spouse, family/church member, friend, and possibly even a work colleague to deliver levels of affirmation, security, and recognition that only God can provide! Conflict inevitably arises whenever relational wires are crossed with leadership wires. This leaves women, who may have made substantial relational investments, particularly susceptible to the downsides of relational leadership. Commenting on women's predilection for building effective relationships, Lois Frankel writes, "The problem is, we're so good at it that we often confuse our leadership responsibilities with a desire to maintain those relationships at all costs."

It is somewhat ironic that, when taken to an extreme, the very gifts that women bring to leadership become the very characteristics that undermine them. In a desire to be likeable and friendly, we can become overly concerned with the need to please others. This condition is more popularly referred to as the "disease to please."

When Friendship Goes Awry

Wanting to please other people is both natural and normal. However, the real issue is just how far we are willing to take it. When the need for approval becomes an imperative, it can no longer be equated with a seemingly harmless desire to appear "friendly" or "nice." The habit of putting others first and the compulsive need to please, even at the expense of our own health, can rapidly spiral into a serious psychological syndrome with far reaching physical and emotional consequences. Yet some women are predisposed to this condition and it lies at the root of many of our stress-related problems.

July 02, 2012 at 1:25 PM

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