My friend, the new CEO of a multimillion dollar firm, explained to his direct reports that, as they progressed in their careers, there would be fewer opportunities for them to mingle with their staff one-on-one as they had in the past. In fact, he himself often ate alone.
I thought back to my own management experience. As a Project Manager in IT consulting firms, it was common to go from project to project assembling brand-new project teams each time. It was probably this phenomenon that allowed me to seldom eat alone. Lunchtime, after hours gatherings, and project off-sites all offered me the opportunity to spend time with staff to get to know them better, and them me.
But in doing so, I was always cognizant of not putting myself into a position where I could be accused of favoritism. In fact, because of that, there were times that I chose to eat alone. For the most part, however, when I went to lunch I would assemble as many of my management team as could join me. During semi-annual and annual staff reviews, I would meet them one-on-one; but the staff was well aware that it was for private discussions of work performance.
On occasions I would ask project team members other than my leads to join me in a non-work setting. Such get-togethers were informal and strictly for the purpose of acquainting myself with my project staff. Even in these situations, I would take a cross-section of staff from several teams to avoid any perception of favoritism.
For the most part these precautions worked well – unlike with some of my peers or superiors. One senior executive with whom I worked threw lavish parties at his house. It was typically understood who would be going, and who would not. That same executive, when attending a ballgame or a bar, would almost always have an entourage of younger employees with him. This may have made him feel important, but it created problems on the projects.
I did have direct reports who were also friends outside of work. I had advanced more quickly than some through promotion; and some were friends from other firms for which we had worked. In these situations, I tried doubly hard to avoid every appearance of favoritism. I was aware of my own biases, and tried not to let them interfere with good project judgment.
Projects are hard enough without the benefit of the camaraderie built during the ups and downs of project delivery. Because of that, unlike my friend, I seldom ate alone.
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