Q: I’ve been concerned because I don’t have a very warm relationship with my boss. I’ve considered my past bosses to be my friends, but with him it’s much more distant. He’s fair and gives me direction when I need it, but I’m wondering if I should be nervous that he doesn’t like me.
A: Bosses don’t need to be friends to be effective leaders; recognize that different individuals have different management styles that you’ll need to adjust to.
The inner game
This is an emotional situation, so it’s particularly important to set some of the feelings aside in order to think deeply about it. So, take some time to get centered, taking some deep breaths and letting go of any stress you may be experiencing.
Now, think about the role a boss (any boss) plays in a person’s life (any person, not you in particular). How would you define the job? Generally, it’ll include managing work, removing barriers and assisting with professional development. How would you grade your boss on those items? You’ve noted that you get the direction you need; do you feel like he’s looking out for your development and providing the growth opportunities you need to advance? Is this his style in general, or does he seem to interact differently with you?
Moving into a less tangible area, reflect a bit on the conclusions you’ve drawn in your question. Fair, gives direction, but distant equals “doesn’t like me.” When you really think about it, does that add up for you? If you used it to guide your decisions, would it lead you in the right direction? It could lead to bosses who form warm relationships, but don’t look out for their team or play favorites. And ask yourself if a need to be liked is serving you well in all situations.
The outer game
Focus on building a positive but professional relationship with your boss. It may feel comfortable to avoid him if he doesn’t seem friendly, but it’s in your interest to engage in a way that works for his style.
If you don’t have regular check-in meetings with him, request to set them up. Then use the time to ensure that he knows your professional interests, your skills and your goals. Ask for feedback on specific projects or tasks so that you’ll know whether your performance is meeting expectations. You could also ask if there are gaps — ways that you could become even an even stronger contributor.
Also think about how a need to be liked plays out in other parts of your work. If you were a manager and had team members with the needed skills and values, but with whom you didn’t have a personal affinity, how might that affect your ability to lead? When working with others on projects, do you shy away from people who you think might not like you?
On the other hand, be sure that you do have friends at work — it makes all the difference in job satisfaction and shouldn’t be discounted.
The last word
Build a strong professional relationship with your boss, even one who doesn’t want to be your friend.