I was their friend. Now I’m their boss.

Many of us, in our elevation through the hierarchies of our organizations, end up getting promoted from a member of a team to a leader or manager of that same team.

This can create a great deal of discomfort for you and for those who now face uncertainty about how to interact with their newly-found “boss.”

Here are some suggestions about how you can make this transition work better for everyone:

  • First of all, talk about it. Get the team together collectively to ask, “what now?” and to notice, together, this elephant that’s now walked into the room.
  • Share openly whatever misgivings you might have about the transition. Express your desire to be a strong and effective leader while also honoring the relationships you’ve established with them over the years. Have them help you find the ways to best accomplish this. Ask for their partnership and support.
  • Seek out anyone who might have been a rival for your new job and address the issue head-on. “Susan, I know you applied for this job and didn’t get it. How can we move together in our working relationship without residual resentment or conflict because of this?”
  • If you don’t have a vision for where you want your team or department to go, create one – with the team if possible. Having a shared vision can help reduce politicking or interpersonal stress that might occur as the team gets used to their new reporting relationship. Get the team focused on something other than your promotion!
  • Make sure roles are clear. If you leave any undefined space in this regard, please know that this will invite conflict and future misunderstandings that will weaken your effectiveness.
  • Have a tough talk with yourself about accountability. As a peer, you weren’t writing performance reviews, and you weren’t coaching others or addressing performance issues. You simply must put yourself — from day one — in a position of strength by stating your expectations and holding individuals and the team to their commitments. This may mean that some of the comfortable familiarity you enjoyed with your peers has to evolve into a different type of interaction. So please know, it’s entirely possible for people to remain friends – but in all likelihood, these evolved friendships will have to include some directness and honesty that might not have existed in the relationship before.

Most importantly – don’t be less than you could be as a leader because you’re protecting the feelings of others who you are afraid to challenge. The former peers who are now employees will not benefit from you being soft with them. Support them, challenge them, be the boss who brings out the best in them. We could argue that’s the best way to define friendship in any case.

About the Author

Sarah Thomson

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