How to Manage Former Peers

Bobby Powers
Feb 26, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo Credit: Karl Fredrickson

If you recently transitioned into a management role, you know that managing former peers can be challenging.

You want to maintain personal relationships but aren’t sure whether doing so will give the perception of favoritism. To compound the problem, some of your closest friends may be on the team, which can make performance conversations even more difficult than usual.

In my last job, I made an exciting but uncomfortable leap up two rungs of the corporate ladder. I was promoted from Team Lead to Director, which meant I immediately became my boss’s boss.

One day I was everyone’s peer. The next day I was managing a department of 160 people — a department that included numerous close colleagues and two of my best friends.

I immediately faced a slew of questions I had never encountered.

Should I grab beers after work with team members? Should I participate in non-work-related conversations I overhear on the team? How could I maintain and develop my friendships without showing favoritism?

Every leader’s solution to these questions is slightly different. I will not presume to tell you how you should handle these situations. However, I strongly believe it’s in your best interest to create a few personal ground rules for interacting with your team.

Personal Ground Rules

Above all, seek to be fair and recognize that your actions have consequences. Like it or not, people will be watching how you conduct yourself. Be mindful of that and consider how your actions could be perceived within your team.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your interactions:

  • Happy hours: It’s common for teams to get together after work to grab drinks and socialize. When those situations arise, do you want to join? If you do, how many drinks will be your max?

Ask other managers how they handled the transition to leading a team for the first time. Find out what ground rules they set for their interactions, then determine your own. Try those ground rules for a couple months, then make changes based upon what you’ve learned.

Photo Credit: Free-Photos

Others Who Wanted Your Role

It’s likely that someone else on the team wanted the manager role as badly as you did. Your job is now to uplift, support, and develop that team member even though he or she may be jealous or disheartened.

The best way to move forward is to have an honest, vulnerable one-on-one with that team member within the first week of starting in your new role.

Acknowledge that you know he or she applied for the role. Reaffirm their value to the team and tell them you’re in their corner and will do anything you can to help them succeed. Look for an opportunity to let them lead an upcoming project to show that you trust them with important tasks.

Ask the team member for feedback. Admit that you don’t have all the answers and that you’ll need to work together to solve tough problems. Exhibiting humility shows the other person you view them as a colleague rather than as a subordinate.

“How Can I Get People to Follow Me?”

It’s easy to get stuck on this question, but it’s generally the wrong question. Worrying about making others follow you turns your focus inward (on you) when your focus should be outward (on your team).

A better question to ask is, “How can I help my team members do their jobs and attain their goals?” The more you focus on helping others, the more they will want to follow you.

John Maxwell’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership offers a useful framework for thinking about leadership. Maxwell says that people will follow you for one of five reasons:

  1. Position — Because they have to

Each of these reasons represents a new “level” of leadership. The fifth level represents the highest and most desirable level of leadership you can attain.

Leaders often move through these levels in a linear fashion, and many never reach “Level 5 leadership.” That’s because reaching the pinnacle of leadership requires knowing who you are and what you value as a leader. It requires making tough decisions, such as upholding your principles even when doing so endangers short-term results. Leaders with strong convictions and ethics inspire others to follow them, regardless of their background, experience, or past accomplishments.

If you’re just beginning your leadership journey, it may take you some time to get to Level 5 leadership. Regardless, you can begin planting those seeds now based upon the decisions you make.

What “level” have you attained in the way you’re leading your team?

Why are your peers following you?

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Bobby Powers

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Voracious reader | Awakening writer | Passionate about business & leadership | Head of L&D and People Analytics @ Gravity Payments | Visit me at

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