From peer to boss: How to manage a team you used to be a part of
Going from peer to manager can be a difficult process. It is a challenge for you, taking on a management role where you used to be an individual contributor, and it is challenging for your team members, as they have to take orders from someone who used to be their peer.
A STAR manager (someone who is Savvy, Tenacious, Adaptive and Resourceful… for those not familiar with the archetype discussed in my book) is able to leverage the benefit of knowing what it takes to be successful at what her team does while being sensitive to the fact that it may be difficult for their old peers to see them an authority figure.
To start, STAR managers are conscious of the fact that this situation may happen, so they are sensitive about the reputation they create for themselves among their peers. It is much harder to get a team to believe in you as a manager if you were thought of as selfish, scheming or dishonest.
When transitioning from peer to manager, STARs do the following:
- Transition relationships: STAR managers work with their close ex-peers to help them understand their new role and to ask for their support during the transition. The book The First Time Manager, by Loren Belker and Gary Topchik, characterizes the complexities of being promoted to manage your old team well when it notes that knowing employees too well can be an issue because a certain comfort level has already developed. They go on to note the importance of setting the right expectations, rules and regulations, fostering accountability.
- Treat everyone equally: It is natural for people to like and get along with people at varying degrees when you are on their team. As a manager, however, you must make an effort to treat everyone equally. It is okay to have past peers/now employees that are friends who you socialize with outside of work, but you must not show them any favoritism or it will create a division within the team.
- Show your authority: STAR managers treat this as carefully as walking across a frozen pond. As mentioned, you will be challenged by your team. Especially as an ex-peer they will use all kinds of logic to get you to relax as a manager and cut them slack. Ensure that you portray yourself as an authority figure. Discipline rule breaking and seize coaching opportunities. While it is important to exert that you are the boss and that people must follow your lead, be careful how you do this; otherwise your people will develop an “oh you have changed” mentality and not trust you as a manager. It is okay for them to think you have changed, but openly discuss with them why.
- Find ways to show that you are their advocate: Make a concerted effort to show your team that you will stand up for them and support them. Find ways to make positive change. A great place to start is to take your new authority and find ways to remove obstacles that bothered you in the role before you became a manager.
- Keep the right frame of mind: Don’t lose sight of the fact that you understand how to do the job your people are tasked with doing and the challenges they face. Keeping this perspective will help you in shaping the appropriate culture, vision and management style to use with the team.
- Have fun and learn: Since you remember what it is like to be an employee on the team, further integrate what the individuals on the team would typically find fun and look for new learning experiences that are valuable.
- Shift the culture: While there may be pressure to keep things the way they are, make sure to leverage a contingency approach and change the culture to better fit your management style. You may face some pushback from your team on this, but follow through if you believe the change is important.
When taking on a management role in these types of situations, be mindful of not only being tested by your new employees but also of any resentment that exists. In many cases, one of your other ex-peers interviewed for the position you received or possibly thinks they are more deserving of the position than you are. This may cause them to hold a grudge and act in certain ways to make you look like an incompetent leader. This can manifest itself in many ways, like them purposely making mistakes on things that you ask for their help on that they know you won’t catch because of a time crunch or because you trust them with it.
One way to deal with this resentment and animosity is to address the issue head on, speaking to individuals on your team and acknowledging how they feel . When doing this make sure not to come off as if you have an “I won and you didn’t” attitude.
Another way to handle this kind of situation is to be nice to these employees and show them that you value and support them in their own career progression. Specifically seek out their advice and find ways to make them look good. This will calm the resentment and focus them on reaching the team’s goals.
STAR managers see situations to manage where she used to be part of the team as a unique opportunity to help the team be even more successful. She successfully leverages her past experience to remove obstacles, empower her employees and create a culture that the entire team believes will help the team achieve even more.
No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.
Every time I appoint someone to a vacant position, I make a hundred unhappy and one ungrateful.
– Louis XIV