In the military, “the men” are separated from “the officers.” The basic idea is that the leaders shouldn’t be too close to the people they will be commanding. In the army, this makes a lot of sense because if you are too close, you might have a difficult time making decisions that could result in someone’s death. On the military base, they have an officer’s club, where the officers go to eat. On Sundays the facility is opened up for everyone, but there is a separate side for the men and a separate side for the officers. The officers’ side is generally a little fancier with slightly better chairs and table settings.
There is a certain amount of separation that is wise to keep in non-military leadership as well. If you are too friendly with your direct reports, it may be difficult for them to respect your authority. This doesn’t mean you need to intentionally be a jerk, but you need to be aware that certain individuals misinterpret an overly friendly attitude as a sign that they don’t need to follow the rules because they are “on your good side”.
Many times, people go to one extreme or the other. On the overly friendly side of things, they look to their direct reports to provide a social life. This isn’t healthy, because it means the leader may not be able to make difficult decisions without having an extreme emotional impact on themselves. Putting yourself in this type of situation can cloud your judgment about an individual’s contribution or effectiveness. It is also unhealthy because, if all of your personal friends report to you, it is possible to end up with a bunch of sycophants instead of true honest friends.
On the other extreme are the leaders who place themselves way above the people they lead. These types of people end up making lots of rules that apply to everyone except themselves and often carry an air of being better than everyone else.
Somewhere in between these two extremes is a healthy balance. The balance may be different for each person who reports to you. Part of your job as a leader is to identify and sense the proper equilibrium that will give your reports the satisfaction of feeling like they have a personal relationship with you, while keeping yourself in an authority role.