It’s a challenge for most managers: What to do when people who used to work with you now work for you, thanks to some reshuffling, etc.
Though they may come at you with handshakes and congratulations, inside they might be feeling a little skeptical — and a lot envious. You’re just like them, after all – what merits YOU to now be in charge?
New managers can succumb to early power-struggle mistakes when supervising former co-workers.
We either overstep our boundaries or under-enforce them. Or we fail to recognize common pitfalls we that could mess up team dynamics and one-to-one employee relationships.
Often, we do these things unintentionally!
Managing former co-workers is an area where we need to tread lightly. We don’t want to appear as if we are anticipating problems with former peers, because they’ll pick up on that, and it could prove to be self-fulfilling. But it’s important to be ready for them.
Many leaders in this position struggle with their new role because they fear backlash, says leadership expert Marlene Chism, author of No-Drama Leadership. They avoid difficult situations with co-workers-turned-subordinates because they don’t have the confidence to shift their approach.
What are some of the pitfalls for managers who supervise their former peers?
1) Trying to still be everyone’s best friend
This is often Mistake #1. You don’t have to abandon all pretext of friendship with your former co-workers, but your new responsibilities mean you do have to scale it back.
Those clique-ish lunches and late-afternoon chat sessions in someone’s office now could make you seem partial to one employee and not another.
Keep the friendships, but make sure you’re distributing yourself on an equal basis with employees. Those who were closer to you than others when you were in your former role should get the message that you’re trying to create an environment of shared availability.
2) Trying to avoid any appearance of discipline
Sure, you’re the boss now – but you want to reassure your subordinates that you’re not really bossy! Everything’s still cool, right?
So, one employee feels free to show up late. Another skimps on work quotas. Someone else starts to “forget” important deadlines. Poor performers cause a lot of problems for managers, and because you don’t want to be seen as “picking on people,” you let the problems get worse.
If your team doesn’t get any signals from you that you expect the rules to apply even though you’re in charge, they’ll think they can get away with anything and you won’t mind. As a result, you’ll get more frustrated with them – and any respect will fade.
3) Overdoing the discipline
On the flip side, another mistake is trying too hard to lay down the hammer to show who’s boss. You’re worried from the start that they won’t accept your rules, so you go over the top to emphasize them.
Trying to demand respect using threats or an aggressive tone only creates a toxic environment, and doesn’t earn your team’s trust.
4) Avoiding bad feedback and performance conversations
Having to review employees who were once peers can be so toxic, managers might be tempted to avoid them entirely. Or, they try to make performance reviews less like their job and more like a simple “friendly meeting.”
Doing this only short-changes the employee from knowing what he or she can do better.
Rework relationships with employees
How can you earn your former co-workers’ respect as their new boss? Take steps to assert leadership that they’ll readily respond to, says Dennis Miller, managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group and a nationally recognized leadership coach:
- Lead through informal authority. Your formal title as manager is just a label. Showing that you respect, trust and admire your employees is what wins them over.
- Talk with people at all levels. Your team will watch how you communicate with others. Treat people the way you would want to be treated by them.
- Make it a point to listen to people. Let your team know they have your ear by asking what they think of an issue and honestly consider what they say.
- Deliver on promises. It’s crucial that you keep the promises you make. If you can’t keep a commitment, own up to it and let them know why. Remember – you were in their position and know what it’s like to hear false promises.
- Be seen. Don’t hide in an office and communicate solely by emails or tweets. If your employees see you, they’ll feel connected to you and you’ll get the best out of them.
- Be a decision-maker. When asked for your input or guidance, give it promptly. Employees respect when their manager can make decisions to help them do their jobs.
- Be fair and flexible. Before you reprimand someone, ask yourself if it would be better to cut the employee a break. Sometimes, people will achieve more if you show a little understanding.
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