How to Manage a Team of Your Former Peers
By Vicki Salemi
Picture it. Over time you've become close friends with your entire department: lunch outings, intramural softball games, baby showers and all. The good news? Your hard work has finally paid off and top brass has noticed! Congratulations, you've landed that big promotion in the corner office.
The not-so-good news? You've landed that coveted promotion in the corner office. Even if others in your group weren't going for it, they may inevitably feel resentment that you're rising through the ranks and they're not. After all, isn't their hard work noticeable and rewardable, too? And if they were vying for the same role you pursued, that's another issue. They didn't get it and you did, end of story. Resentment, anyone?
You may start sensing this from your former friends; perhaps pangs of guilt start to creep in. Not only that, but you're dealing with unexplored territory of having to manage your cronies. This is not an easy task – especially if you know them too well and you're aware that one is a slacker and scoots out of the office. Summer Fridays leaving at 2 p.m. have crept up to 10 a.m., and now that slacker friend is your own issue to manage.
Actually, this transition is normal and not at all unusual. With a tactful approach of setting new boundaries and altering your behavior, you can become a successful leader among your former peers, plus gain traction with your new ones.
There are a few ways to straddle the balance of becoming a terrific boss to your former peers without being their pal. Here are several tips to help make that seamless transition.
1. Address the elephant in the room. Schedule a meeting to sit down with your department as a team or individually. It will clear the air and set the tone for your relationship. Some may not even know they have issues with it, while others may attempt to sabotage efforts in your new role.
You can say something like, "I know this can be a little awkward and feel unfamiliar because we were so close and now I'm your boss. I just want to let you know I'm still here for you to vent your frustrations or share a laugh. I have your back." The talk doesn't even have to be in a corporate setting – take them out to lunch or coffee. Through your tone and personality, they'll hopefully feel at ease having already known you. That said, they may go through more growing pains than you experience as they see you morph and step up to the challenge in your new role. The need to get over it is more their issue than it is yours.
2. Start weaning yourself off the lunches and outings. Part of the process of growing out of your old role and into a new one involves detaching yourself from the old day-to-day conversations. Yes, your office door may be open and they may stop by to say hello but you should start avoiding conversations that are too personal. Not stoic, mind you – if one of their kids has a health issue and they need a flexible work arrangement, that's an example of when to show continued compassion and support. But knowing how they unknowingly butchered their tuna casserole recipe at the latest block party? Too much information. You can say something like, "That's an interesting story! I hate to cut it short but we have that deadline at noon. How's that coming along?"
3. Embrace your new peer group. Seek new peers and invite one or two of them to lunch. Get to know them, pick their brain and ask them about inner workings of the department at that level for projects you haven't encountered yet, like year-end performance reviews and budget management. Keep conversations of a professional nature and light when it comes to personal topics, alluding to perhaps a summer vacation or how your favorite local sports team is doing. Take cues from these new relationships and apply them into your old ones.
4. Volunteer to chair other initiatives. In most companies there will be initiatives for the environment, affinity groups for minorities and other opportunities to get involved. As you take on leadership roles outside your department, former peers begin to see you as just that – a leader. An added bonus? You'll start seeing yourself as a leader, too.
5. Monitor your behavior. With all of these pointers, it's important to note things don't change overnight. But if you're hoping to someday get a promotion it's prudent to start monitoring your own behavior and interactions, online and offline, so that you don't have to reboot suddenly. And the situation could be reversed, with your peer who doesn't do half of the workload you accomplish starts rising through the ranks. Put yourself in his or her shoes.
6. Rethink your social media settings. Alter your privacy settings, or if that becomes unmanageable, start thinking if you really want your team to know you caught up with a college buddy last night at the local watering hole. If you were vigilant about your social media all along, you won't need to backtrack to change access to photos and more.
Above all, look at the big picture. You're in a new role and transitioning into it is just that – a transition and a learning process. Part of that involves altering relationships with your peers.