By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN
New nurse leaders often confront the challenge of balancing personal and professional boundaries. I was reminded of this recently when a Chief Nursing Officer shared a story about one of her young leaders who was having a difficult time doing this. The young nurse had taken a leadership role on a unit where she had been a staff nurse for a number of years. She had been part of a group that routinely socialized on weekends. Upon her promotion, she had continued to do this. The CNO was concerned because other members of the staff felt left out. She was also concerned that the new manager was oversharing personal information with some staff that could make it more difficult to be an effective supervisor. The CNO told me that she had shared her concerns but wasn’t sure if her message about the importance of maintaining boundaries was accepted by the manager.
Work-Life boundaries is a topic that is rarely discussed in leadership development programs. It is important because if not done well, it can lead to career derailment. In his book What Got You Here won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith points out the dangers when leaders are perceived as “playing favorites” with staff. This can easily happen if leaders are not careful with work-life boundaries. They may naturally gravitate toward some staff members while others feel left out as in the situation noted above.
Socializing Outside of Work
Socializing outside of work with your staff has two potential pitfalls for leaders. If you do decide to socialize with staff, events should be open to all staff. In nursing, this is difficult because of our shift work. A second pitfall is that unless managed well, there can be oversharing of information at these events especially when there is drinking. While after work interactions may feel informal, they still reflect on the leader and influence how others see her or him. Watching what one says and does (and with whom) is vital. Work itself is another all-too-common fall back topic. When there’s a lull in the conversation, it’s tempting to fill the silence with what is happening on the unit. When you do meet outside of work, make sure you socialize with everyone, don’t pick favorites, and always remember that you’re still their leader and should act accordingly.
Social Media Use
Who would have ever thought that “friending” your employees would be such a huge dilemma? But, thanks to the explosion of Facebook and other social media sites, clicking that “accept” button can’t be taken too lightly, New leaders often have the added problem of having “overshared” information before they accepted a leadership position. While there is no perfect solution to this, many leaders now set up professional sites on either Facebook or LinkedIn to stay connected with staff if allowed by their organizational policies. Personal sites are kept personal. Whatever choice you make, communicate with staff what you are doing especially if you defriend staff from your personal site.
Even if you never treat an employee-friend more leniently or favorably than the rest of the staff, your staff may perceive that you do. The perception that everyone is not operating on a level playing field may have a negative impact on employee morale. To avoid these perceptions, it is important to connect with all your staff. A good place to start is to connect on a social level with at least 2-3 of your staff each day. Ask about their families and their interests. Not all staff will be interested in having these conversations so personal preferences need to be respected. Most experts advise that it is best not to turn business relationships into close personal friendships.
Ashlie Turley, author of the Refresh Leadership Blog ,offers some great advice on this topic. She observes that “there is no clear-cut way to balance your professional responsibilities with your personal life; there are too many variables, such as your leadership style, your employees’ personalities, and your company’s culture. But, one general principle does apply – your team needs a leader first and a friend second”.
© emergingrnleader.com 2013