HR and Recruiting

How to bond with your employees without compromising your authority 

Written by Michael Hoon

Authority and power are complex issues that come with the task of being a manager. In the workplace, the ability to hire, fire, and give raises sets the power dynamic between employees and bosses. But while power and authority are clearly linked, authority is a bit murkier to define—it relies on the established relationship between employees and their bosses and can be built over years and lost in an instant. Bonding with your employees and projecting authority are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the two things are much closer than one might think.

Here are a few ways you might develop both leadership traits.

Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect

Authority doesn’t come automatically with a job title. It is earned when managers are clearly knowledgeable and competent, and when they get results. But you can’t get those results without team effort—and your interaction with employees plays a vital role in establishing authority. In order to truly lead a team, you need to earn trust and establish an atmosphere of mutual respect with employees. If you find yourself pounding on your desk and engaging in intimidation tactics, chances are you are trying to assert authority rather than earn it. But if you build a base of shared respect, then bonding with employees will grow your authority rather than diminish it.

Take an interest in your employees

You don’t want to invite daily gab sessions or become a shoulder to cry on, but being responsive to employees and really listening can help foster your authority. Simple things like knowing where your employees went to college, or the names of their family members, or their personal interests and hobbies, can help you understand their motivations and actions at work and help establish basic respect. This type of bonding also fosters a working relationship that can open the channels of communication so that when your employees have a good idea, they can reach out. This way you can be the boss employees want to listen to and will trust to follow.

Be a real person

So, can you drink a beer with your employees and just be a regular person? Sure. But you can’t drink too much or share too much personal information. Letting employees see that you’re a real person with your own life and interests outside of work does not compromise your authority, but is part of that two-way street of building mutual respect. Social settings like the office party can help you bond while keeping it professional.

Set boundaries

After you relax with employees at an office party or talk up your golf game, you need to be clear when it’s time to focus back on work. The afternoon progress meeting is not the place to shoot the breeze, so take care to establish the atmosphere you want with a simple, firm-yet-kind acknowledgment of when it’s time to get back to business.

Head off problem employees

Occasionally there will be the employee who can’t separate the friendly boss from the friend and switch gears back to work-mode. If you find an employee becoming overly familiar, too joking, or disrespectful, this is where your authority needs to put its foot down. Nipping a problem in the bud is best, and opening the channels of communication with the individual employee can turn the situation around.

Bonding with your employees, when done the right way, can actually help you gain authority. It can take years to cultivate but largely stems from you setting appropriate boundaries and maintaining genuine interest in your employees as people. So ask yourself: are you approachable, or intimidating? And which do you think will get better results?

About the author

Michael Hoon