For many of us, the joy of getting that coveted managerial role is tainted by a feeling of unease that we now need to manage our former peers. Your promotion will inevitably change your relationships, and it is perfectly natural to feel some grief or anxiety about this shift.
If we want to be successful and make the transition as smooth and painless as possible for everyone, we need to manage it intentionally. Today, I would like to share with you some of the mistakes I have made or observed others make when moving from peer to manager.
Try to ignore the awkwardness
It’s going to be awkward. There is no doubt about it. You used to vent about your boss’s newest whim together, and now you are that boss. That’s bound to cause some friction and cringe-worthy encounters.
I don’t know if you remember that “Friends” episode when Chandler got promoted and was trying to pretend that nothing has changed and that he is still Chandler and not “Bossman Bing.” The more he tried to ignore the awkwardness everyone felt when he acted as if nothing had changed, the more uncomfortable it felt.
Now, you should not overcompensate like him and have people work on the weekend to show who the boss is. But you do need to openly acknowledge the change in the relationship and how it will take time and adjustment until you all start to feel comfortable in your new relationship.
It will help you build trust with the team if you show vulnerability and share first how awkward you are feeling.
Fail to set boundaries
Becoming a manager does not mean that you should sever any personal relationships with your former peers. It does, however, mean that it is imperative to set clear boundaries.
Just because someone is your buddy does not mean they can be allowed to be two hours late for work because they went to a party the night before. Even if you were at that party together.
The fact that you used to be peers or are still friends should not interfere with your new subordinates taking direction and coaching from you.
Boundaries should be clear, explicit, and the same for everyone. It is especially important to discuss them with the whole team if you have been closer to some individuals than others.
You will never be able to build your credibility as a manager if you don’t appear to be treating people equally.
Act like a “big boss”
But then again, don’t overdo it. Being a manager has long ago stopped being “the boss.”
Your job as a manager is to secure that your team is doing their jobs and are achieving the expected results. You do that by providing direction, overseeing their performance, providing them with tools, motivating and engaging them. But ultimately, you are there to get them what they need.
Being overly demanding and authoritarian will not bring you respect faster. It may make them fear you eventually (if that is what you want). But initially, you will most likely get quite a few laughs. You do remember how you used to mock managers who took themselves too seriously together, right?
Continue to compete
Every team has some internal competition. Unless it goes out of hand, it provides a good push for high results and personal development. Most likely, you were part of that race and were pretty good at it to land that promotion.
But now, as a manager, your responsibility is to lift others and ensure their success rather than focus on your own. So instead of feeling jealous, celebrate when someone beats your sales record and try to find ways for even more people to become better than you.
That’s what a true leader does, and your team will appreciate it highly.
“Do” instead of “guide”
I think that’s the most challenging part for new managers – letting go of your old tasks and focusing on your new responsibilities. The explanation I hear most often is: “I feel that I am not helping the team enough if I don’t share in their operational tasks.”
And what is also lurking behind is “I feel more comfortable with the tasks I know well. I am afraid I might fail at being a manager.”
And both of those are very valid concerns. However, the manager’s role is crucial for the team’s success. By sticking to your old operational work, you are depriving your team of a leader who can help them work more efficiently, get them the resources they need and guide them.
Be afraid to manage underperformance
I was wrong. Dealing with underperformance is the most difficult part of managing your former peers.
In comes the awkwardness again. Accompanied by the imposter syndrome thoughts like: “I was making those same mistakes until a month ago. Who am I to criticize them.”
There is usually also a fear that performance improvement conversations or actions may damage the relationships with your former peers.
But ignoring mistakes and underperformance will only lead to them multiplying and forcing you to take much more severe actions in the future. It will also give a dangerous message to the team that you don’t care about performance and results. Which will hurt you badly in the long run.
So bite the bullet, have the conversation, take action. If you have done the steps outlined above, your former peers and new subordinates will already have clear expectations about your new relationship and will expect no less of you.