When going from peer to leader

Bruce Tulgan

All of a sudden, when you go from peer to leader, you have power and influence in relation to their careers and livelihoods and their ability to do valuable work that is recognized and rewarded. You are also now the primary link between those individuals and the next level of leadership. You now represent the organization as an employer. For your direct reports, you are the key to helping them get the resources they need to succeed, getting approvals, removing obstacles, and facilitating their interactions with lateral counterparts.


That is a huge shift, and it will radically change your relationships with everybody at work.

So often I’ve seen new managers in this situation try to soft-pedal their new authority: “Don’t think of me as your boss. I’m still just me. We work together. I’m just one of the team.” That is, until there’s a disagreement, an unpopular decision needs to be made, a new policy implemented, someone needs to be held accountable, or someone needs to be called out for special recognition and reward. Because, actually, all of that will now fall to you.

I always tell new managers in this situation, “Remember, you are the one who got the promotion. Live up to it.” You must own it.

If you are taking over a team on which you have been a member, it is very likely that you may have formed some friendships in the course of working together. Sometimes the friendship predates the working relationship. Either way, it can be hard to separate your role as the new boss, from your role as friend. But that’s exactly what you have to do. As tempting as it might be to pretend you are still just a member of the team, still one of the guys, you have to accept that you are in a different role now.

1. Decide which is more important to you. If the friendship is more important, maybe you shouldn’t be the boss. Accept the fact that your role as boss might compromise or damage the friendship. Maybe you’ll decide that you cannot risk your friendship, and thus you don’t want to be the boss. But probably not.
2. Establish ground rules that keep the roles separate. Say: “Our friendship is very important to me. My job is also very important to me, and around here I am the boss. When we are at work, I need to be the boss. When we are outside work, we try to leave that behind.”
3. Be a good manager. Protect the friendship by making sure things go really well at work. Minimize the number of problems, and you will minimize the number of potential conflicts in your personal relationship.
4. Accept that the parameters of your friendship have changed. Recognize and embrace the fact that the work you and your friend have in common will become more and more the terrain of your friendship. That’s OK. With any luck, you both find the work you share to be interesting and important.

As much as you try to keep work separate from your friendship and your friendship separate from your work, the boundaries won’t always be clear. Take good care of your friendship by being a diligent, thorough manager and hope that your friend will do the same by helping you do that to the best of your ability.

Coming on too StrongNext to soft-pedaling authority, the most common mistake made by new managers promoted from within the team is coming on too strong: Sometimes when you are promoted from within you might feel like you need to prove yourself right away. Assert strength and confidence. Take on any detractors. Show them who is boss now! Or maybe you have been so eager to take charge for so long and feel so sure you know what’s what, who’s who, and what needs to be done.

That would be a big mistake! What should YOU do instead?

Start out strong, for sure, but also with maturity and balance. You have to acknowledge the big change and assume command of the team; take charge; accept the mantel of authority. You do NOT need to explain why you were the right one for the promotion. You don’t need to justify why you are now the boss. Instead assume your position and explain how you are going to operate as the new manager. Why not say this: “I’ve been honored to be part of this team. Now I’m honored to be the manager of this team. We all have existing relationships. Those relationships will change to greater and lesser degrees now that I am your manager. I take this responsibility very seriously. I am committed to being really good at it. I am hoping you will help me.”

That would be a very good start. Then it’s time for a discussion about how you are going to manage the team and what you will expect from them. And then it’s time to schedule your next team meeting and your first one-on-ones with every one of your new direct-reports.

Bruce Tulgan is a speaker and the author of numerous books including the best seller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (2007), and the classic Managing Generation X (1995), as well as Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009), It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (2010), and most recently The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014). Learn more at www.RainmakerThinking.com and follow Bruce on Twitter at @BruceTulgan.


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