Before we delve into the very real blessing of friendship in leadership, let’s tackle the elephant in the room first. If you are a leader, or a woman, or, well, human, then you have probably been hurt by a friend. You’ve learned what disloyalty, mistrust, betrayal, or abandonment is through tough, tearful experiences. “Ugh! Why would you bring that to memory!” you may think. Simply, because we must acknowledge the fatality of friendship before we really understand the vitality of it.
Friendships fail because we are imperfect people. The pain of unrealized expectations and lost relationships goes deep, but pain is a good teacher if we are willing to learn from her. Through her we learn to adjust our expectations of others, know ourselves better, and yes, also to forgive others (and ourselves) for poor judgment and behavior. It’s true that some people hurt us out of ignorance, and others out of intention. Either way, our response should be forgiveness for a few of good reasons: 1-The scripture says you must do it. (Colossians 3:13) 2-Because God will forgive you as you forgive. (Matthew 6:14) and 3-It brings praise to God. (Romans 15:7)
If you felt a pinch in your heart when we addressed the elephant, take a moment to forgive again. Some broken relationships and shattered hopes take years to grieve. Know that healing may come in waves, and just continue to forgive when you feel that pinch of pain. Disappointments in lost friendships can tempt us to become islands unto ourselves; it’s just a trap that leads to loneliness and pushes us toward friend famine. Instead, process through the pain and purpose to form new friendships that are healing and healthy.
Let’s be honest though, finding authentic friendship is a very real issue for many leaders. Often for women in leadership, there aren’t other women leading with her in the same organization, and forming friendships with superiors or subordinates at work can create unique workplace challenges. Ladies who lead may also experience difficulties of cliques, judgments, and envy even in social circles and church which makes it hard to find and form new friendships. You can cultivate vibrant and vital friendships as a leader. You seek and develop new friendships, keep these tips in mind:
Clarify expectations in former and forming relationships.
Sometimes friendships face hardships because each person’s expectations of the relationship are incompatible with the other. You cannot be everything to anyone; nor can they you. Some friends may share an interest in a particular hobby, but have very different faith beliefs. Don’t discount the value of their friendship just because you don’t agree on everything. Instead focus on the fun you can have together and what you can learn from each other.
Set boundaries for yourself and others.
Maya Angelou’s advice, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time,” can help you to understand what you can expect from others. Boundaries help you to set non-negotiable principles in your relationships for what you are unwilling to compromise, whether that is your time, your emotions, or your finances. As your relationship develops, know whether you should be pursuing a friend, or just being friendly.
Reach out beyond your usual professional and personal circles.
Often it can seem that there is a shortage of available friends when we look only in our usual day-to-day interactions. Don’t let familiarity limit your relationships. Reach out to others who may not be in your day-today routine, but who share professional interests, spiritual beliefs or hobby passions.
Stay open to unexpected and unplanned friendships.
New friends can be found through social media groups, community events, and mutual acquaintances. Be mindful when you meet other moms at the playground; strike up conversations at the market; accept (or extend) an invitation to lunch with a casual acquaintance. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that she has been starving for friendship too.
Friendship is vital, especially for leaders because, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) You can be more successful, have support when you need it, and also enjoy the journey more with friends.