Jonathan recently got promoted at a Fortune 500 company and will be supervising the team he was previously a member of. The promotion was achieved through Jonathan’s consistent hard work and his dedication to improving his skills. However, many other members of the firm, including some of Jonathan’s team members who were also qualified for the position also applied. Mary, one of Jonathan's teammates, also applied for the role. She and Jonathan have had a poor work relationship for a while - even before Jonathan was promoted - essentially, both Jonathan and Mary are in sales and Jonathan was working on an account that he was assigned to and had been working on for months. Mary connected with an employee of that company at a networking event, didn’t notify the team, and ended up closing the deal. She essentially stole the business that Jonathan had already laid the groundwork for.
Although Jonathan is excited to take on this new role, he has some reservations about how Mary will treat him now that he oversees her. Mary has already made several comments indicating she doesn’t believe Jonathan is deserving of the promotion and that she would be better suited.
When managers are placed in a situation similar to Jonathan’s several actions can be taken to set them up for success:
- Mitigate Problematic Behavior
Articulate expectations for team conduct specifically as it pertains to supporting one another and working together. Emphasizing to team members that they should direct any concerns they have to their manager can help to prevent gossip from being spread and allow actionable steps to satisfy tangible concerns. Failure to mitigate problematic behavior early on may only lead to continued disrespect and issues in the future.
- Consider a One-on-One Conversation
If any team member is similar to Mary, arranging an individual meeting with said team member can directly address the issue. During this conversation, it is important to ensure it is an honest discussion about the situation and emphasizes the importance of working towards a common goal. Although an open discussion is best, being straightforward when explaining that unprofessional behavior is not welcome will best communicate the severity of their actions. Be transparent about expectations and don’t hesitate to directly address the underlying issues from the past. When doing so, be sure to base this portion of the discussion on direct observations of their actions and remain as objective as possible.
This change in dynamic can serve as a fresh start for any previously poor relationships with peers who are now direct reports. Articulating hope for a more positive relationship going forward can encourage a better attitude as well as remind them that a manager's goal is to support the development of their direct reports.
When dealing with a direct report whose problematic behavior is relatively mild, offering to develop a growth plan can shift the relationship in a more positive direction. Developing a plan to continue to build skills and allow the direct report to be a stronger candidate for promotion in the future will demonstrate faith in the direct report's abilities. Dedicating time to help a direct report fulfill their professional goals also serves as an opportunity to build a foundation of trust.
- Recognize that it Takes Time
It can be very difficult to change someone’s perception, so remember that it may take time for a direct report to build trust and respect. Forcing a relationship with a colleague that there were previous issues, may only harm the relationship more. Allowing time for everyone on the team to be accustomed to their new manager is valuable, however, time is not an excuse for someone to blatantly disrespect their manager.
Navigating relationships with difficult colleagues and treating them objectively can take time and consistent personal evaluation. Adjusting to different relationship dynamics with friends and work and previous team members can also be difficult because the lines between peer and manager may appear to be blurred.
Here are five strategies to ease the transition from peer to manager while establishing an authoritative presence:
- Develop a Servant Mentality
Promotion to leadership status is largely based on credibility and demonstrated performance and continuing to build upon this established credibility is extremely valuable when overseeing peers. Adopting a servant mentality recognizes that employees don’t work for their manager, managers work for their employees. Managers shouldn’t operate solely as someone giving orders, they should ensure the success of every member of the team for them to produce the best results. Continuous efforts to support all team members over time will build respect and expand existing credibility.
2. Hold Individual Meetings
Dedicate time after being appointed to the new role speaking individually with each member of the team. These conversations can be used to discuss any questions or concerns direct reports may have about the change in leadership. This can be used as a time for team members to communicate any frustrations they have and even specific improvements they wish to see in the team environment. Additionally, these conversations will be beneficial to discuss goals
and build trust with members of the team.
3. Set Boundaries
After working together as peers, it can be incredibly difficult to encourage direct reports to see their leader as an authority figure. It is necessary to communicate boundaries with team members to ensure that they demonstrate respect going forward. While gossiping or attending happy hours together may have been frequent occurrences, it is important to recognize that a new role requires a new set of behaviors. Leaders should strive to remain approachable without having the notion that direct reports should treat them like a friend.
Failure to set clear boundaries early on can lead direct reports to act disrespectfully and may encourage them to disregard directions received from their team leader. Implementing these boundaries later on may be difficult to enforce now that team members have gotten acquainted with treating their manager as a peer despite the differing titles.
4. Establish Open Communication
There may be a lot of uncertainty for direct reports on how to navigate this new dynamic reporting to a previous peer. To prevent any discomfort or stress for direct reports, new managers must develop systems of open communication. Ensuring that direct reports feel comfortable reaching out to their manager will help build relationships and encourage feedback loops.
5. Manage Perceptions
When managing a team of previous peers, managing perceptions can help prevent issues of favoritism from presenting in the future. While it may seem harmless to continue grabbing lunch every day with close friends at work, when a manager consistently gets lunch with certain direct reports it can demonstrate unequal treatment. These special privileges may not be brought to attention by other direct reports, but the unspoken perception of favoritism can be detrimental to team performance. Consider developing habits that are more inclusive to all team members, such as a rotating lunch schedule.
While it may not seem valuable to adjust habits to change perceptions of direct reports, managers' actions can directly influence if direct reports buy into their manager's vision. Making changes to daily actions to reinforce this promotion to the leadership level can help promote respect and increase team members' trust.
Adjusting to a new position takes time, but spending time to develop an approach to handling previous colleague relationships can help to ease that transition. When assuming a management role, keep in mind that it is a manager's job to support their team and continue to strive for the development of each individual, regardless of any prior issues.