Navigating the Pitfalls of Being Promoted from Peer to Leader
Are you a new leader who is managing a group of former peers? It can be awkward to transition from teammate to leader. Recently, I was asked to support a colleague who is struggling after being promoted to a role where she’s managing former peers. The issues she is facing are compounded since two of her former peers (and now direct reports) applied for the position she’s in today. So, what should a new leader in this situation do? Here are four potential pitfalls you may need to navigate if you’re a new leader managing former peers:
You know one of them wanted the job
In situations where others you’re managing also applied for your role, it is particularly important that you quickly acknowledge this fact. Be empathetic and put yourself in their shoes. Applying for an internal job posting and not getting the opportunity doesn’t feel good. Let your colleagues know you realize it is hard. Be prepared for some resistance. It happens. And when or if it does, gently squash it so the effects of their resistance does not grow into a larger concern for you and the rest of the team.
You need to gain their trust
Gaining trust is one of the most important things a new leader promoted to managing former peers can do. Building trust takes time. Start by doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’ll do it (or sooner). Let the team know you have their back, then demonstrate it. Let them know you are interested in gaining their trust as their new leader, and ask them what you can do to gain their trust.
You know their strengths and weaknesses
You have been working side by side as peers, so you are familiar with your new direct report’s strengths and weaknesses. They realize you are well aware of their weaknesses, and they may be wondering if you will use their weaknesses against them or help them develop those weaknesses into strengths. You’re the manager now, so you have to decide who has the potential to be more successful and who doesn’t. While it is noble to believe that everyone on your team has what it takes, that may not be the case. You know how they perform, what they do well, and where they fall short. How are you going to fairly and objectively assess each individual, and what type of investment will you make in each person?
You consider them friends
How do you become an authority figure with a group of friends you had drinks with just last week? It can feel awkward, but as their manager, creating some boundaries is important. Balancing being friendly and approachable–but not a friend–is an art that might take some time to cultivate. Socializing the way you once did as peers may not be possible. Many new leaders are challenged by the new responsibilities of managing performance, making tough decisions, and having difficult conversations with their team members. When friendship gets added in, it can go from being challenging to feeling nearly impossible.
You may be asking yourself why you wanted this promotion and wondering if you read the fine print–or whether the fine print was written in invisible ink!
How do you get support for this transition? Hire a coach! A coach can support you in a different way than your manager. A coach is more objective than your manager because, well, she’s not your boss. She’s not evaluating your performance, and she’s not making decisions about your financial or career success. A coach also has experience working with people with various backgrounds in diverse industries. In other words, she’s seen it all. She is cheering you on from the sidelines, and she will support you so you can show up as the leader you want to be.
Do you know someone who needs a coach? Contact me.