Advice on Managing Former Peers
From the lunch table, to the meeting room, one of the hardest shifts in any career is making the move from team member to team leader. Not only are you in charge of other people’s success rather than just your own, you also may find yourself in charge of someone who is a close friend. You can’t show favoritism. You also can’t simply pull the plug on the relationship. After all, you need that person’s support in order for your team to succeed.
I asked two experienced leaders for advice on making the shift from peer to manager.
Lytics Head of Partnerships and Operations, Elizabeth Robillard admitted that being too chummy with direct reports isn’t always a great idea. But she also says that there are some good ways to split the difference.
“Your peers should want you to succeed, especially if you are direct and gracious about the promotion and want them to succeed as well. Get in front of it right away.” Her advice for new managers in charge of former peers:
1. Meet with individuals first. “Have individual meetings with each peer or friend, and have an open dialogue. Admit that it may be awkward and ask for their help in moving the team forward in a direction you all can benefit from. Remember - as their peer you probably spent some time brainstorming about what the team could do and be - you can enact those dreams together if you get these folks on your side.”
2. Then meet with your team. “Have a team meeting with everyone to establish your priorities and get them on board with your management focus and style. Make it a longer meeting, so you can really get into detail about what the team needs to accomplish. Have an open dialogue and hear everyone’s opinion - listen more than lead, and see if you can get them all on board.”
3. Nip toxic behavior in the bud. “If someone isn’t on board, don’t let him or her derail your new job. Not everyone can get on board, but usually they can if they feel like they are a trusted advisor to you and part of the future growth opportunities. Don’t let them poison other colleagues - if they can’t be saved, help them move out gracefully (either to another department or to another company).”
Glassdoor VP Anjanette Hill-Mendoza advises new managers to let go of the concept of “ownership.” She says, “Many a young leader has ended with a bruised ego because they don't truly understand the concept of servant leadership before they've stepped in to their first leadership role.” To keep their team’s respect, new managers must be willing to step back and let former peers step up—trusting them to execute the overall vision and allowing them to receive the recognition for a job well done.
While HR can’t get in the middle of personal friendships, there are things HR can do to ease the transition. Talk with managers before they officially step into their new role about how to handle potential challenges. Keep an eye on the personal dynamics, and, if things go sideways try to step in to mediate before anyone quits or is fired.