In the early days of running my business, I remember trying to be everyone's buddy. I wanted to be a cool boss and create a fun place to work. Ultimately, my efforts backfired: every time something went wrong, it was near impossible to tell my "friends" they were falling short. Tensions built up, people talked behind my back, and no one was having fun. In the end, I realized I didn't set them up for success. By acting first as their friend, I failed to be the strong leader they needed.

In most cases, people don't need (or want) their boss to be their bestie; they want a manager who supports their success and helps them reach their career goals. The coolest boss is someone who respects their employees, gives honest and useful feedback, and treats everyone as equals.

Here are 4 tactics that might not make you "cool", but they will make you an effective leader.

1. Establish Boundaries From Day One

The majority of our waking hours are spent at work, so it's only natural to develop relationships with colleagues. But while a friendship between co-workers at the same level can improve employee engagement, the same relationship between employee and manager can have not-so-good consequences. That's why leaders have to set boundaries with their teams right off the bat.

I'm not saying it has to be all business, all the time. At O2E Brands, we encourage a casual work environment where leaders are approachable and no one takes themselves too seriously. But we also have structure and regular check-ins to assess what's working and what's not. In short, interactions with direct reports should always be handled with professionalism and integrity.

2. Don't Play Favorites​

As the manager, it's not your job to fit in with the popular crowd. If you get too casual with certain team members, it can create the appearance of favoritism. Whether it's your intention or not, people will assume their colleagues are getting special treatment. This can undercut your authority and has the potential to alienate the rest of your team.

Your job is to be an objective leader who keeps everyone rowing together. When you treat everyone equally, you establish yourself as a source of support for any conflicts that arise.

3. Support Your Employees to Set and Meet Their Goals

A levelheaded boss who gives people trust and autonomy? That's cool. A boss who gives people so much freedom that they don't know what's expected of them? Not cool at all. Employees need your support and direction. In fact, managers who help their employees set and achieve their goals have more engaged, productive and creative teams.

Every week, our managers meet with their team members for a GS&R (goal setting and review). Instead of a top-down touchbase, these are led by the employee who can talk about current projects, what's working and what's not, and any challenges that are in the way of meeting targets. It ensures that managers are in-touch with what's going on and that team members are getting the support they need.

4. What's Cooler Than Being Cool? Being A Boss People Can Respect

To me, it's cooler to be a respectful (and respectable) boss than it is to be everyone's buddy. As it turns out, your employees would rather have a role model than a pal, too. There's a misconception that your people will think you're a jerk if you don't cut them enough slack -- but in reality, being a pushover damages employee loyalty and your bottom line.

At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with being friendly with your colleagues. But it's tough to trust the leadership of someone who doesn't take their position seriously. A strong leader knows when it's okay to be lax -- and more importantly, when to lay down the law. If you can find the balance, your people with thank you in the long run.

Published on: Aug 30, 2017