Moving from Peer to Boss
Acknowledge that relationships have to change and encourage a climate of openness
Moving into management
When you move from being a technical professional to being a manager, you’re likely to face several challenges — especially when it comes to dealing with your former peers. Not handling this situation well can cause tension within the team and lead to an unproductive work environment.
Cody is an ambitious programmer at a telecommunications software company. He’s outgoing and gets along well with his teammates.
When the team leader leaves, Cody is promoted to the position. This raises issues among some of Cody’s former peers, whom Cody now manages.
See each of the team members to learn about their issues with Cody.
Emily, a senior programmer on the team, is furious that she seems to have been overlooked for promotion to the position of team leader. She feels that her experience and knowledge make her better qualified to lead the team, and she resents Cody’s promotion to the role.
Danny was a great supporter of Cody — helping him settle into the team and standing up for him. Shortly after becoming Danny’s manager, Cody scheduled a meeting to discuss his perceived lack of quality in Danny’s work. Danny feels betrayed by a friend. He also thinks that Cody has become arrogant now that he’s in a position of authority.
As Cody’s closest friend on the team, Rick is used to confiding in Cody about personal issues and about other people on the team. When Cody takes over as team lead, their communication changes — it becomes more formal. And because Rick knows Cody so well, he tends to show a lack of respect sometimes.
How would you advise Cody to handle these individuals?
Well, you could advise Cody to accept that his relationships with his former peers will have to change, in light of his new role. You can also advise him to circumvent personal issues by focusing on what’s good for the business.
Furthermore, you can give him tips on how to establish his authority, and advise him on how to encourage a climate of openness within the team.
As you transition into management, you can use four strategies to help you establish new relationships with former peers. Acknowledge that relationships have to change; focus on what’s good for the business; establish your authority skillfully; and encourage a climate of openness.
Acknowledging the change
When you assume a management position, it’s not just your role and responsibilities that will change. You should acknowledge that your personal relationships with former peers will change too.
Your new management role calls for your relationships with former peers to become less personal, for two main reasons:
- when key business or performance issues arise, you need to prevent your personal feelings about team members from influencing your decisions and actions, and
- you need to avoid being accused of favoritism towards certain team members at the expense of others.
When you were a technical professional, the relationships you formed with colleagues were heavily influenced by the bond you shared as technical professionals.
Now, because you’re advancing to a higher organizational level, you need to adjust your relationships accordingly.
The process of changing relationships begins with the announcement of your promotion. If your manager or another authority figure hasn’t informed your peers of the news, you should take it upon yourself to do this. Call a meeting with your team and announce your promotion. Be sure to express enthusiasm for the future, provide reassurance, and offer each of your former peers individual attention. You need to be diplomatic and sensitive as you change your relationships with them.
Express enthusiasm — You should state your enthusiasm for working with the team in your new role, and express your hope that it’ll be a positive step forward for the organization.
Provide reassurance — It’s important to reassure your team members that you value their skills and efforts.
Offer individual attention — Make the point that as part of the transition, you’d like to meet the team members individually, to discuss their concerns and ideas for the future.
Despite your efforts to start your new role on a positive note, you may find that some of your team members don’t like the fact that you’ve been given authority over them. Whether these sentiments are stated openly or hidden, team members may resent your promotion.
This could lead them to undermine your authority or to withhold support they could give you in your new position.
If these team members are critical to the success of your team, this could be particularly damaging.
You can help overcome particular team members’ resistance to your new role in three main ways: emphasize your respect for them, give them new opportunities to contribute so you bolster their sense of importance as team members, and consider how best to engage with them.
Emphasize respect — You should make a point of telling team members — especially those who may be struggling with your new role of authority over them — of the respect you have for them and their past work.
Give opportunities — It can help team members accept your new authority if you give them new opportunities that add to their importance as team members. For example, you might offer a senior team member an advisory role in the team.
Engage with them — Think carefully about how and when you engage with team members so you don’t offend them. Remember that career prospects are probably a concern for them. It can therefore be important to show that you’re genuinely committed to helping them develop and advance.
One other change that you may need to make as you transition to management is who you go to for advice and counseling. In the past, you probably sought advice from colleagues on matters relating mostly to the content of your work. However, with your change in position, your mix of advisors will also probably change. In other words, the advice and counsel network that served you well before your promotion is unlikely to be what you need in your new role.
In a management role, you’ll need to rethink relationships with existing advisers and counselors, focusing on new topics in different ways.
You’ll also need to develop new sources of advice and counsel and rely less on existing ones.
Focusing on the business
When you become a manager, some of your former peers — whom you now manage — may be concerned about the changes you want to make to the team. They could be anxious about bias you may exhibit, such as favoritism for certain team members over others. They may even be worried you’ll exploit them to advance your own organizational ambitions.
To counteract these concerns, you should always make it clear that your decisions and actions are motivated by what’s good for the business.
Keeping in mind four concepts can help you do this.
Focus on others — Communicate your plans in ways that focus on others. Emphasize the welfare of the company and of its employees, stakeholders, and customers.
Teamwork — Restate your commitment to working as part of the team, despite the change in your position.
Professionalism — Be professional by guarding against personal issues interfering with your ability to do your job.
Common goals — Stop team members from choosing sides by emphasizing that you have common goals.
Another important strategy is to consult with your team members when making important decisions. Encourage them to focus on what’s best for the business and to contribute their ideas. This will help team members focus on collective goals, as well as ensuring they view the process you use to reach decisions as fair.
Establishing your authority
As a new manager, you’ll need to establish your authority if you’re to get positive results from your team. But this can be a balancing act — you don’t want to be too weak and overly accommodating, but you also don’t want to be too controlling. Extreme approaches won’t be useful.
For the first few months, you should take things slowly — introduce changes gradually as you settle into your role, and let your team members get used to your management style.
Consult your team on key decisions and then make the decisions you think are best, letting your team know what you’ve chosen.
Even though you ultimately make the decisions, using this approach shows your team that you’re open to receiving input from others, that you’re decisive, and that you know you’ll be held accountable for your decisions.
Consultation isn’t appropriate in every situation. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to consult team members about strictly management-level decisions like those surrounding salaries, promotions, and dismissals.
In your early days as a manager, you can also use other techniques to establish your authority:
- explain your new role and the hopes you have for the team,
- discuss your initial plans, specifying what will and will not change,
- encourage team members’ participation by asking for feedback, and
- be clear and decisive when addressing issues and problems.
Once you’re in a management position, you may find that you don’t receive information in the same way you used to. It’s likely that your former peers will “filter” the information they give you — because as the manager, you’re no longer just an ordinary member of the team. If someone in the team is looking for a new job, for example, you may be the last to find out.
If you’re getting only filtered information from your team, you may need to seek out new ways to get the information you need. For example, speak to customers and other people who regularly interact with your team members.
You should also encourage a climate of openness, ensuring team members are confident enough to talk to you about their problems and concerns.
To do this, you should try to communicate with sensitivity, and avoid asking for ironclad answers to problems.
Communicate with sensitivity — If team members come to you with bad news, be sensitive about how you communicate with them. Don’t blame, punish, or bully them — any of these actions will probably lose you their trust.
Avoid asking for ironclad answers — When team members approach you about a problem, don’t expect them to have ironclad answers. Although it’s good practice to expect direct reports to have at least thought about what to do, you shouldn’t expect them to give you a perfect solution. It’s up to you to work through the problem with them.
Another way to encourage your team members to communicate openly is to seek their opinions and input. There are several questions you could ask:
- What are your major concerns about how the team operates?
- How do you think the team’s performance could be improved?
- What new opportunities do you think the team should take advantage of?
After receiving input, express your gratitude for team members’ contributions and explain what you plan to do with their ideas.
You don’t become a successful manager overnight. Managing your new responsibilities, as well as leading your former peers, is a challenge that requires time and patience. But by adopting the strategies outlined in this topic, you’re much more likely to make a smooth and successful transition.
A number of challenges arise when you’re appointed to a position of authority over your former peers. Failing to address the issues can cause tension within your team and lead to an unproductive work environment.
To overcome these challenges, you should acknowledge that relationships have to change, focus on what’s good for the business, establish your authority skillfully, and encourage a climate of openness.