Yesterday a Colleague, Today You’re the Boss. Now What?

“How do you handle it when you are now supervising your former teammates?” is one of the top five questions I get when teaching supervisory skills.

This situation is understandably awkward for both the person who got promoted and those who now have to answer to this person, especially if a former peer also applied for the supervisory position.So what do you do?

Here are some practical tips for navigating this challenging situation:

Avoid the temptation to demonstrate that you are now “The Boss”—This is virtually guaranteed to trigger anger, resentment, and the relentless pursuit of opportunities to make your life difficult. It also communicates insecurity and weakness. Truly confident people don’t have to boss or push people around.

Acknowledge the “elephant in the living room” – Let the person who seems to be having a hard time know you can imagine it might be awkward for them and – if it is – acknowledge that it’s awkward for you, too.

Ask them for their thoughts on how you and they can make this transition as smooth as possible for everyone—Doing this communicates “We’re in this together” as well as “We both have responsibility for making this work.”

Avoid preaching the obvious – For instance: “We all have a job to do and I need to count on you…” blah, blah, blah. Officious, overly formal, old school boss lecture that covers blatantly obvious material comes across like a teacher lecturing a school child and is guaranteed to alienate the other person.

Article Continues Below

Ask them for input on what you can do to be the best possible supervisor for them —Not only does this give you valuable information on how you can bring out the best in them and minimize unnecessary tension, it communicates you care about them and your impact on them. That alone wins you major trust, respect, and appreciation points.

If a peer also applied for the job, depending on your relationship with them, you might ask them how they are doing with your getting the job — If you don’t have a particularly close relationship with that person, you might choose to simply acknowledge in a low key way that if they want to say anything about how they’re doing with this, you’re open to hearing about it. If you don’t believe they would be comfortable talking about this at all, then you can stick with the above ideas.

If a peer who you’ve been close to appears to be taking advantage of that friendship, address this quickly — You can do this without sounding overly formal or officious. For instance, “At the risk of stating the obvious Sam, I’m sure you know the fact that we’re friends can’t get in the way of your doing your job and being held accountable like the others. Maybe I’m reading too much into things, but some of the things that have been going on, like _______ and _______ make me wonder about this… What’s your take on this?”

While having the conversation is no guarantee that you will resolve the situation, you are far more likely to resolve it if you have the conversation. For more “how to” tips on how to have the conversation, read:

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 100 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.

Topics