I have to admit to not understanding this world where we are not supposed to offend anyone including those who are offensive. I am all for compromise and being friendly as long as the other person is not trying to drive over me with a bulldozer.
Perhaps I grew up in a different world where people sometimes said nasty things to you. You learned to ignore the words without giving up the high ground while remaining on guard for a real punch.
I have worked with people all my life and have enjoyed many friendships but I have also been a leader and there are times when you have to be the leader and do some unpopular things even if it means losing a friend. The same thing is true for being a parent. I enjoy being friends with my children now that they are grown, but when they were growing up, the need to be their parent far outweighed the need to be their friend.
A few years ago I ended up spending a brief time working with someone whose view of the world was so far removed from mine that it was impossible to work together. His idea of leadership was avoiding anything that was controversial. All of his decisions were colored by the worry that he might offend someone. The result of avoiding anything that stirs emotions or offends anyone is likely mediocrity.
First off, anyone who has spent a long time leading people will tell you that true leadership is not a popularity contest. Leadership is all about doing what needs to be done and helping your people be the best that they can be while accomplishing their mission. Sometimes that requires some blunt language.
True leaders do not assign blame for mistakes, they seek solutions for problems and encourage their teams to turn in results that weaker teams have no hope of achieving, but you do not get those results out of weak teams or teams filled with thin skinned people.
I have helped teams do things that were nearly impossible, but I have also helped people see that they were wrong for the positions that they had. It is tough to get someone to admit that they cannot meet the challenges of a job, but I am pleased to have some of those people still among my friends.
I will never forget one of the first meetings with one of my favorite bosses at Apple. I had just come into the reseller channel from Higher Education. I had spent a month going out and meeting my resellers. I was appalled at how bad they were. We had the head of the reseller channel from Cupertino in our Reston office. I was asked what I thought about my resellers. Instead of saying the politically correct thing, I said something to the effect that they were the most pathetic group of computer stores that I had ever seen. Of course I was supposed to say how wonderful they were. After the meeting my new boss said that I was too honest to be an Apple manager.
I invited him to get in car with me and take a tour of my North Carolina resellers. He was a great manager and within an hour of picking him up at the Charlotte airport, he said that he would never doubt me again. The first reseller I took him to was selling Apple products from his dentist's office which was a converted savings and loan building with a drive-thru. His showroom was the filled waiting room for his dental practice and did not have a single current product on display. He had no sales people. There were only two receptionists. He did stop his work on a patient so he could meet with us. He proudly showed us his reseller of the month award he had just won from Cupertino.
Eventually Steve Jobs figured out Apple's resellers and started the Apple Stores which have been tremendously successful for Apple. There were some great resellers out in the Apple world but they were few and far between in the mid-Atlantic region in the mid-nineties. As to offending people, Steve Jobs offended more people that I can count, but his model of working with people is not one that I would choose. Steve preferred to humiliate people whenever possible.
However, sometimes the truth is not popular and even hurts, but hiding the truth and avoiding what needs to be done usually ends up hurting far more people. If you go through life with the expectation that everyone is going to be your friend and like you, you will be disappointed. Life is not Facebook.
Sometimes you just have to stand up for what is right and fair even if it offends a few people. You should never compromise your integrity even in the most difficult times. People will appreciate your efforts to do what is right.
Each role I have accepted has been done to the the best of my ability. I have never shirked the responsibility for my actions including mistakes and offending some people.
The friends that I have made along the way have turned out to be ones who appreciate honesty, openness and fairness. The folks who have a problem with me usually have a problem with those three traits.