Frenemies: We All Have Them. Here’s what to do about them.
In 2009, President Obama entered the White House for his first day on the job carrying Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals, a biography about the leadership of Abraham Lincoln. A media buzz swiftly ensued as political pundits speculated about the symbolism of the President entering the Oval Office with that particular book in hand. The buzz reached such a high that media correspondents decided to interview the biographer herself.
During her interview, Goodwin discussed the two aspects of Lincoln’s administration and leadership he was most famous for: The Emancipation Proclamation and his savvy in “frenemy” engagement. Lincoln positioned his biggest critics as cabinet members and his opponents were often members of his inner sanctum leadership circles.
I believe President Obama took Lincoln’s biography into his first day on the job to signify his plan to strategically engage the frenemies he would inherit by default. Like Lincoln and Obama, every leader experiences ‘frenemy’ encounters and has to develop and implement a frenemy engagement strategy.
What is a frenemy?
I define a frenemy as an individual who respects and loathes you at the same time. Frenemies are as pervasive as air — they are everywhere, at times invisible, but their presence is always felt. A frenemy is someone with whom you may find yourself implicitly or explicitly in both competition and collaboration with. With frenemies, you can’t tell when a compliment is actually a complaint. Frenemies are people who don’t know if they really wish you well or just wish they thought of the idea first. Truth is, frenemies come in differing degrees and are more than polished versions of the proverbial “hater.”
Are often our biggest critics and watch our every move
Mysteriously find ways to travel in the same circles you do
See qualities in us they like, admire, or respect, but for some reason, feel threatened by our light
Stalk our social media sites, but never “like” a single post
Want to stay close enough to witness, experience, and draw from our shine, but simultaneously resent, criticize, or devalue the light that radiates from us
Can be family members, childhood friends, colleagues, board members, former coaches and mentors, and even people we only know by association
The best way to head off frenemy activity is by being proactive. Who are the frenemies in your circles? How can you strategically position yourself (and them) in a way that protects your heart, vision, and interests? Frenemies will be thorny no matter where they are, but being proactive may provide greater control in setting boundaries to control the level and extent of access frenemies have to you.
ONE LAST THING…
The human condition means that each of us has frenemy capacity. If we are not careful and in sync with checking our own behavior, emotions, responses, and motives, we can easily slip into frenemy mode with people we see walking in their purpose in ways we wish we were.
Excerpt from Shannon’s new book: Tough Skin, Soft Heart: A Leadership Guide to Growing Stronger, Better, and Wiser