Transitioning from Peer to Manager

Early on in my career, I was given the opportunity for a promotion to lead the team I was on; this meant becoming senior to folks who had been my peers. While I was appreciative of the opportunity and others recognized my work ethic merited the offer, no one prepared me for the awkwardness of this transition. So. Very. Awkward.

Recently, I was approached by someone going through a similar transition and wanted some of my advice. I am sure I’m not the first to give this kind of advice and, obviously, your mileage may vary, but there are some basics that everyone going through this kind of thing should know.

(1) Yup, it’s hard — but you can be adults about it!
Many folks assume it’s hard because they are bad at something; the truth is, managing people is hard and managing people who were your peers/friends can be that much harder because it can change the nature of your relationship.

When I was on the receiving side of this, watching my friend get promoted to be my boss, it was actually quite easy because she and I had discussed our aspirations. She knew what I was trying to achieve and she was supportive of it. We were working together to help me get to my promotion, too, and we knew that her promotion was not a barrier to mine in any way. This requires two hard working adults who don’t seek drama — that’s not always guaranteed. But, in the end, working with her helped me achieve my goal; it was truly a win-win for us both.

Again, this requires an acknowledgement for both parties that it isn’t a zero sum game.

(2) Provide the Psychology Safety to Uncover What Folks Want
It sounds kind of simple, but it’s important to know what the people on your team want. You might THINK you know because you used to talk but I would caution against making any kinds of assumptions. It’s better to have the conversation (and folks respect that) than to avoid it altogether and potentially make incorrect decisions in how you support someone’s growth.

Going back to my own personal life, I appreciated when I had managers who created the psychology safety for me to discuss my aspirations without judgement. It was important that I felt heard.

As a manager now, I try to have a 30 minute session with each new joiner of my team to ask them a few key questions including: where did your last manager leave off with you? What did you like/dislike about them? These kinds of questions can be very helpful to ensure you aren’t assuming you know this when transitioning from teammate to manager.

(3) Take the Lead but Hold Everyone Accountable
When you are hired to lead, you have to take the lead. That means having difficult conversations (whether with your team, or with others) and ultimately setting an example of how you want your team to operate.

And that means it’s ok to hold your team directly accountable for how their actions, or lack of action, can impact others / the bottom line at work. Sometimes it is difficult for folks who haven’t transitioned to a management role to understand why you might want them to do something a certain way so it’s important for you to explain the performance you want to see and, most importantly, what impact that will have. If you have to think about the impact, it might not be worth giving the feedback — so something to keep in mind as, now that you are a manager, you don’t have to tell someone how to do their job as long as the job is getting done effectively.

That said, when it’s not being done effectively, it’s important to give that feedback on what you need them do and how you are there to help! “We need to do better” isn’t harsh — it’s fact and now you and your direct report need to figure out how you can better set expectations, help them manage time, whatever it is that might help them overcome their current performance hurdle.

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