I was reminded today why I am a firm believer in the notion of a Chinese Wall when it comes to business and personal relationships.
By way of backtracking (and for those not inclined to click on the above link) a "Chinese Wall" in business is a kind of organizational barrier that prevents one part of a firm from being influenced by another. It's a fairly common notion, particularly in the financial services industry where you may have different parts of firm representing both buyers and sellers of securities.
Anyway, I've always believed that leaders need to have some degree of separation between their professional and personal lives, especially when it comes to individuals who may have manager/subordinate relationships. Why? Simple: it's just too easy to allow your personal friendships to influence your professional decisions. That doesn't mean that these kinds of influences don't exist, because that would be denying the obvious. Instead what I am arguing is that such relationships can't be front-of-mind when interacting professionally. Then there is the issue of perception: we'd like to believe that people get ahead as a result of their competencies and abilities, not personal relationships.
Yes, in some professions competency is in part measured by the ability to cultivate personal relationships. But even when it comes to something like sales, is that the only competency? Moreover, the ability to develop a personal relationship with a leader doesn't necessarily mean that a person has the motivation or talent to extend that ability to beyond "the boss".
In the end leaders have a singular obligation to make the best possible decisions; when those decisions involve people they need to be measured against a singular yardstick of what will best advance organizational goals. Note "organizational", which isn't always the same as "personal" (be that my "personal" or my friends "personal"). Can they be the same? Can what's best for me and my friend be the same as what's best for the organization? Sure they can, but that's never a given. I'm not advocating for some silly notion of capitalistic martyrdom (where we always sacrifice ourselves for profit), but instead I'm simply saying that leaders are paid to lead for the interests of the collective, not the personal.
All of the above makes me very suspicious of individuals who maintain very close personal relationships with either a boss or subordinates. I've always told those I could influence that this kind of mixing of relationships is unhealthy at best, damaging to both the relationship and the organization at worst. I know this is a high standard and I know that it creates difficulties, but I view it as being part of the cost someone needs to assume if you want the mantle of "leader".