Can I be a friend and a boss?

It’s not easy keeping people in line when you’re new to the role, finds a letter writer.
Our elder has the experience to help her strike a balance.



Hello! So I’m a senior at my university and I’m currently an editor on my school’s newspaper. It took a lot of work for me to get this position, and I’m grateful to finally be in a position where I can learn more about leadership and oversee four other staff writers. I really feel like I’m growing because of this experience, both as a writer and an editor, but I’m having trouble exercising my power as ‘the boss.’

Last year, the students I’m now ‘the boss’ of were my fellow staff writers; we all had equal footing, though it was obvious that I cared more (at least outwardly and through the presentation of my work) about the position than my fellow writers did. They (especially one writer in particular) would always ignore the deadline and then complain when they got in trouble. When I took on the added responsibility of becoming their editor this semester (I was their assistant-editor last semester, so they still reported primarily to the main editor), I was confident that I’d be able to control these writers. I was their friend after all, and they told me before the semester started that they were glad I was the new editor because they liked me better than the guy I was replacing.

The trouble is, I’m finding it difficult to strike a balance between being their ‘boss’ and being an understanding friend. With the one writer in particular, it’s like almost every week I get a text from him telling me that he got too busy to write the article on time, or that he has writer’s block and needs help (oh PLEASE.) I’ve tried being patient and understanding, but I’ve reached the end of my rope. This is a responsibility, after all; just because he doesn’t take it as seriously as I do doesn’t mean he is exempt from making deadline. I’ve tried being tougher on him recently; for example, I sat him down and let him know that I can no longer pick up his slack because he ‘got too busy’ to write a weekly 400-word article. I calmly and rationally let him know that this is a responsibility and that he is not being a valued member of the team. He seems receptive when I do these things, but then BAM, next week it’s the same story, with all the same excuses. I would suspend/let him go as a writer, but we honestly need him more than he needs us, as it’s difficult to attract writers to my section of the paper. Every time he is late with his article, he is extremely apologetic, and I find myself wanting to appear understanding over ‘bitchy’ or unprofessional. I’ve gotten better at refraining from being so understanding all the time, but I still feel like he’s taking advantage.

How can I strike that balance between friend and boss, professional and stern? We can’t afford to lose him as a writer, but is he more of a liability at this point? The worst of it is, every time he’s late with his article (whether I’m strict or understanding), I blame myself, and my confidence just plummets. I struggle with anxiety and confidence issues enough as it is; I don’t need this guy making it worse by making me feel like an incompetent leader!


Dave-Scott replies

If you continue to supervise in the future, you will come to understand that your problem is not an uncommon one. Most employees try their best to do a good job, but a few just never seem capable of delivering.

I supervised people for my entire career and would say that I always wanted to be both a supervisor and a friend to the people I managed. Some bosses would say you can never be effective if you try to do both, but I believe you can. I would say, however, that when a problem develops, you have to be able to be a supervisor first and a friend second.

If someone is not brand new to a job, they should easily understand their responsibilities and duties (especially if you have spoken to them about their poor performance). If they do not deliver and have no valid reason for not meeting a deadline, they are not only jeopardizing productivity and shirking their responsibility, but are in fact disrespecting you and the others working to produce the newspaper.

It sounds like you have done exactly what you could do as both a supervisor and a friend. Your subordinate, however, has allowed himself to fail everyone again and again. Your choice is to keep him on and continue to do his job for him or let him go.

You say that he is essential to your success, yet you also say he “is more of a liability.” If you cannot count on him to do his job and you often have to do it for him, he is “a total liability.”

I used to hire both permanent employees and short-term employees. When I got a poor seasonal employee it was hard to fire them because it was nearly impossible to replace them in time to work a short season. At first I tried trying to make it work with a known poor employee, but they seldom improved and usually became a real liability (also, other employees would come to resent them or think they could do whatever they wanted as well). In time, I found it was less stressful and much more effective to let them go and find some other way to fill the gaps.

I am not saying to just fire the employee without trying to make it work out. You’ve already talked to him once (or more), and now maybe it is time to give him an ultimatum—the next time you do not deliver, that’s it. In your line of work, delivering on time is just as important as the quality of the work. If a person cannot be totally relied upon, they will never make a good journalist. I always felt most people who failed at a job did not do it on purpose, but simply were not cut out for that job. Sometimes, I felt that it was doing them a favor by making them aware of that fact. Sometimes, I think they felt the same way as well.

Hard decision, but I think you will do fine. Best of luck.

Best Regards,

Elder Dave-Scott


Reference 421522

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