Meg Burton, an executive coach and leadership facilitator with 17 years’ experience of working with people just starting out in leadership to senior leaders, has produced some useful information on managing former peers which we thought would be a relevant feature as part of the careers campaign.
One of the most difficult challenges in any manager’s career is when they are faced with leading a team of people they used to work with! A team that a few days earlier they were part of and individuals who were previously their peers.
Promotions are recognition of the hard work you have put in, the achievements you have made, your desire to progress but no-one said it was easy.
Despite how well your colleagues supported you or liked you as a peer the dynamic changes and colleagues may question management decisions, evaluate your competency to do the job and talk about whether you will make it or not.
So how can you prepare for managing your peers? What can you do to build your credibility, and gain their respect? We’ve talked to a number of people who’ve been in this situation and there are a few common things that a number of them highlighted from their experiences.
Expect the initial resentment and doubt from the team, don’t assume they’ll all be on your side from the outset. There will be some ups and downs and topsy turvy times ahead.
This doesn’t mean eliminating your likeability or friendly approach but you do need to accept you are no longer part of the gang, you are the boss. You have to get your head around this first in order for them to see you as the boss. You have to accept they won’t always agree with or like your decisions.
There will, no doubt, be a combination of opinions about you amongst the group. This will depend on their experience of working with you, how they feel about the company and how they personally deal with change. There will be those who are pleased for you (but may not say so openly), those who are simply envious of your success, those who are disappointed it wasn’t them (it’s possible some may also have applied?) and probably some who are not really bothered. If you have a particularly close friendship with someone, it will be beneficial to have a conversation about how things will need to be professional to avoid any claims of favouritism. Usually, if you have this conversation you will find your friend is understanding and supportive and appreciates you taking the time to have a conversation about it.
Spend time with your own boss to understand the results you have to deliver, the objectives you need to achieve and discuss how you plan to do this. Seek support from them to help you with the transition from team player to manager. Get them to announce your promotion to the team and lay out what they expect in terms of support for you. Initially, it may be beneficial to get a short amount of time away from the team before you start the role - take opportunities to attend training or work alongside other managers to provide a little breathing space for you and them.
This is about letting the group know your expectations from the start and quickly establishing ways of working. It allows you to present your plans to the team and let them know both what goals you want them to achieve and how. Outline how you will support and involve them. This also helps them to understand how much change is likely to happen and avoid any worry or scaremongering about what you are going to do. Do some of this in team sessions and arrange initial one to ones with each team member to find out what they think/feel about the change. Get to know each person individually and start to build the employee – manager relationship (see tips on how to do an expectations exchange in our article on how to engage your employee from day one)
Let them know you are willing to hear their ideas and want their input to the team but be clear about anything you can’t do or change. Explain that you already have a good appreciation of their strengths and abilities but that you know there is probably a lot more to discover. Explain how you want to utilise their ideas and experience.
Your approach can still be friendly, you can still have lunch with your team - don’t distance yourself too much or they will think you are aloof and unapproachable. You need to find a balance between having amicable relationships but still being able to tackle any difficult issues such as poor performance, inappropriate conduct etc.
Make sure you start well and book in your 1-2-1’s and then keep to them. Don’t be the manager who always postpones these as very quickly you will be seen as ineffective and someone who doesn’t care about the team. Don’t make any quick promises about what you will be able to do for them without confidence that you actually can! Always under promise and over deliver.
Don’t worry about showing them that you will still help out when the going gets tough. Whatever your industry, show the team you are willing to do some of the doing when needed and that you are not the kind of manager who manages from a distance.
And finally, whatever you do, don’t let the power go to your head - don’t mistake the title of manager for bossy, and start to issue orders or come over all heavy handed as this will just lead to resentment. Remember, respect breeds respect, so the way you treat your team will influence both how they see you as their manager and how they work for you.
Your first 6 months in your new role are crucial; it’s a balance of letting the team know you are not a pushover but equally not coming across as too tough. The most important thing is to take your time and do it your way - there is no absolute right and wrong - find a management style that fits you and the team you are managing, and ask for regular feedback on how you are doing both from the team and your manager. Focus on what kind of manager you want to be, how you want your team to see you and what you want your team to say about you. Then make sure your everyday actions are contributing towards creating this legacy.