Post-promotion: The art of managing your former peers

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As women advance their careers, a coveted promotion often brings with it the immediate challenge of leading a team of people who, until that moment, were peers. The challenge: acting and accepting yourself as "the boss” so that your colleagues will too, experts say.

Leading with confidence requires careful planning and proceeding. One of the first items on the agenda should be meeting with those you formerly gossiped with by the water cooler and now will oversee, according to the team at staffing firm Robert Half International on "This includes group meetings and one-on-one conversations to make sure everyone understands his or her exact responsibilities; any recent staff or organization changes; what your expectations are and how they may differ from the previous supervisor’s; and how accountability will be measured.”

These meetings don’t have to be awkward, said Kim Zilliox, an executive coach for more than 20 years who previously led the Network of Executive Women’s Leadership Academy courses. "What I find most difficult, and most important, is for both parties to sit down and talk about how the relationship may look different from this point on,” Zilliox told The Glass Hammer.

She recommended looking at a typical day or week to see how touch points have been in the past and then look to see how they might be different in the future. "If this can be discussed between the two individuals affected, this creates an optimal outcome,” Zilliox said.

It’s complicated

The new workplace relationships can get complicated, warned John Halter of "It is a common mistake to believe your friends will help you and your detractors will try and harm you. There are many possible outcomes as your tenure progresses.”

Halter categorizes team members as Supporters, Apathetics or Dissenters and says understanding how to use each group to your advantage is a key to early success. After assessing your team, focus on your boss’s short-term goals, he said. During the "start-up cycle,” management will be carefully evaluating you and looking to confirm its decision to promote you. "There will be time for you to offer your own ideas down the road,” Halter said.

When advancing from peer to boss, women must distinguish which parts of the relationship with colleagues are personal and which are professional, according to Kevin Eikenberry and Guy Harris in their book, From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership. "If you’ve previously talked or gossiped about management or someone in the organization or a customer, you’re probably not going to engage in conversations about them anymore,” they noted. "Regardless of your opinions, you need to be the leader, not the friend.”

After being promoted, have a "boundary” discussion with your work friends. "You will need to explain that sometimes you will wear the friend hat, but other times you are the boss,” the authors write.

Immediately abandon any idealistic philosophies about how you might still be a part of the gang and how nothing has to change between you and them, Halter said."You are now their boss. It is not about keeping or making friends. It is about creating results to further the goals of your company.”

If former peers are not sold on you as their new leader, it is important to be proactive in addressing the issue, Zilliox said. She offered these five tips:

  • As a leader, allow your workplace friends and peers to process their concerns and questions about the transition.

  • Be sure to connect with each team member and discuss their strengths and goals. Express your commitment to their success and that of the team.

  • Create small wins for the team. Try to make them look good. Shifting the focus away from you will help get the team moving forward.

  • Check in with the holdouts. Can they suspend opinions for a while to see if it will all work out? Be clear about why you were given this new role.

  • Weed out the bad seeds. If some just can’t get on board, see what other parts of the organization would be a better fit for them and help them move.

  • Be confident. Any good leader is consistently learning and growing.

Blog Author Bio

Kathy Bayert is vice president, learning and advisory services, for the Network of Executive Women, the largest women’s leadership organization serving the retail and consumer goods industry.

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