3 Tips for Managing Your Former Peers
October 4, 2016 | Business and Careers
Making the transition from team member to team leader can be very awkward. You may be excited about being promoted but concerned about assuming the role of “boss” over your former peers. How can you approach the transition confidently and effectively? Here are three tips for managing former peers:
1. Acknowledge the awkwardness. Get the unspoken out on the table early. In your first meeting with your team, come right out and say, “I understand this is awkward. First we were peers, and now we’re not.” That’s the first step in dealing with what is likely to be an uncomfortable transition. And make a special point to individually speak to any former peers who also vied for the position you now hold; let them know you support them and want to help them realize their goals.
To assist the transition from peer to boss, an external consultant can be brought in to lead a new leader assimilation process. He or she might facilitate conversations with members of your team to help uncover issues by asking questions like “What are you excited about? What are you concerned about? What do you want to know about your new manager and her vision for the company?”
Beyond the initial transition, the next most awkward moment will probably be the first time you sit down for a performance review with someone who used to be a peer. Again, acknowledge the elephant in the room. “I know this seems strange, but this is the role I’m in. This is the role you’re in. And it’s my job to give you feedback.”
2. Be careful not to show favoritism. Everybody knows whom you were friends with before you got promoted, so you’ll need to go out of your way to avoid the appearance of giving preferential treatment. For example, you should seriously consider no longer socializing separately with members of your team once you transition to managing former peers. While it can be difficult to think about flipping a switch and turning off a friendship, it is even more difficult to be seen as objective when you socialize with only select members of your team. Unfortunate as that can be, that’s why it’s often said “It’s lonely at the top.”
If you can’t stomach the loss of social time with a friend who is now a direct report, make sure you are thoughtful about how much time you spend together outside of work. And be discreet. Don’t talk about other team members when you are together, and don’t share stories at work about how much fun the two of you had over the weekend.
3. Act like a leader. When you’re the boss, you can’t pretend to be one of the gang. And that means you have to give your team room to be who they are as a new group. Let them sit together at lunch without you. Let them socialize without you. Give them space to talk about you and how things are going at work.
At the same time, you need to consciously do things that bosses do: Be a leader. Drive initiatives. Make decisions that are yours to make. But remember that there’s a fine line between demonstrating you have what it takes to lead and proclaiming “There’s a new sheriff in town!”
My advice: Take it slow. If you try to exert too much authority overnight, you’ll lose the team. But if you handle the transition with grace and aplomb, your will earn the respect and commitment of your new team members.