As an ardent fan of WNBA basketball, I had already reserved seats for the playoffs. Our team, the Seattle Storm, faces off against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday.
Seattle’s popular point guard, Sue Bird, is good friends with Phoenix’s phenom, Diana Taurasi. Off the court, they were college teammates, overseas teammates, roommates, and very close friends. Now they faced each other in a heated competition.
Players of team sports, especially at elite levels, get used to mixing friendship with competition. Speaking in interviews, they admit they have trouble guarding an old friend…but they also anticipate her moves and do a better job.
I don’t think we have any pro sports players following this blog. But in a business context, you often find yourself playing with friends.
Or you’re looking for a resource — tax preparer, web designer, consultant — and you’re tempted to hire a friend … or a friend’s friend. But you want to win the career game. So…
(1) Set up written criteria for choosing employees, resources, and business partners.
You’ll need this list when you’re facing a new challenge, such as moving to a new city or starting a business. Everybody has a friend who’s a real estate agent, accountant, lawn service, and even moving company. They’re great people but not necessarily a good fit professionally.
My own biggest mistakes have come from choosing to work with people who felt more like friends than professionals. Every time.
(2) Maintain your game face.
When you’re with a company, a client, or a networking group, you’re “on.” Anything you say may come back to haunt you. (Family business? Started a business with an old friend? That’s another article!) Find a confidante who has no ties to your source of income. Sure, you may run up your phone bill or pay for a professional listener. But you’ll protect your most important economic investment: your professional self.
(3) When a friend seems like the best choice, plan for the worst case scenario.
He didn’t do a good job. Maybe she was just the wrong person for the role. How will you break up the relationship? Can you handle the emotional side as well as the financial and professional?”
There are no right answers.
Some people have a firm policy: “No mixing business and personal life.” Others think of the workplace as a second family. Still others find they create deep bonds with a colleague who shared a personal experience, such as illness or caring for aging parents.
There are no right answers.
A few years ago, Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks and Dawn Staley, then of the Charlotte Hornets, faced each other in the finals for the national championship. They were close friends who phoned every week. But, “No friends in a championship,” Staley told a reporter bluntly. “No phone call this week.”
As I recall, Los Angeles won the championship.
Now Lisa has taken a season off to enjoy her new husband and baby, while Dawn has become a head coach at University of South Carolina.
Like those ballplayers, every so often we have to stop and remember: Which team are we on? And are we playing to win?