My boss won’t let me be friends with the people I manage

Your Life
January, 2013

Q. I used to go out to lunch with a co-worker, but I’ve been promoted to manager and my boss has made it clear that he does not consider socializing “between the ranks” to be appropriate. How do I handle this with my co-worker?

A. You’ve been promoted to manager because you’ve demonstrated good judgment. In our Catholic tradition, the habit of good judgment is called the virtue of prudence – the perfected ability of right decision-making. Prudence is the master virtue which helps us to be fair, courageous and self-disciplined. Prudence is smart, purposeful and practical.

Now that you’re a manager, you need prudence more than ever. You’ll be facing bigger and more complicated situations that require bigger and better thinking. So let’s consult with a really good thinker and management expert, St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas identifies eight essential parts of prudence. The first on his list is experience or memory. Experience is a powerful type of knowledge, namely of the past – to be brought to bear for the future. “Memory of the past is necessary in order to take good counsel for the future.” Bosses need, and usually have, more of this knowledge.

The second part of prudence is understanding or intelligence. This is a kind of knowledge of the present. Understanding applies universal principles to particular situations. Your boss is applying an intelligent principle to your new situation for everyone’s benefit.

The third part of prudence is docility. This word sometimes gets a bad rap, but true docility is eagerness to learn, particularly from people with more experience and understanding. “Hence in matters of prudence man stands in very great need of being taught by others, especially by old folk who have acquired a sane understanding of the ends of practical matters.”

We only have time for three: experience, understanding and docility. Now what?

  1. Be docile. It is the mark of docility to be ready to be taught. Pick your boss’ brain to understand his directive. What’s the downside of socializing between ranks? What’s the advantage of drawing the line? You don’t just want him to boss you; you want him to mentor you.
  2. Seek understanding. Your boss isn’t just anti-social. He’s applying a principle that bosses shouldn’t selectively fraternize with their subordinates. Ask him to fill in the blanks as to why it’s “inappropriate.”
  3. Accept aging gracefully. As you age, you actually do become wiser. It’s one of the perks!

Once you understand the thinking behind the directive, it’s not a directive. It’s your own decision. And you’ll figure out a good way to talk with your new subordinate. Really, that’s the easier part.

Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization (