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Imagine this scenario: Your boss, let’s call her Grace, calls you on the phone and asks you to come to her office to discuss something very important.  If you’re like me, your first automatic reaction is panic–what did I do wrong?  As you enter her office, you continue to rack your brain trying to figure out what decision or behavior was unsatisfactory, waiting for the bomb to drop.  Then she really catches you off guard when the conversation begins with her thanking you for the great job you have been doing.  Grace goes on to explain that because you are such a valuable asset to the team, you are being promoted to a management position. She also shares that your current supervisor is moving to a role in another department, so the team you will be leading is your current department.  You sit, dumbfounded, because you just received the promotion you had been waiting for, but slowly the realization sinks in…. you are now going to be the boss of your co-workers.  What are they going to think and how are they going to treat you?  More importantly, how are you going to treat them?

Leading your coworkers can be tough for many reasons. First, your peers may resent you for getting the position.  Second, you have been an equal and a friend to many of these people and now you have to tell them what to do?  Third, you have been mostly responsible for your own actions and now you have to influence the people you worked with day in and day out?  It can be extremely overwhelming.

I had this happen to me on several occasions throughout my career. Here are a few tips that I learned to master after my first attempt taught me what not to do!

  1. Practice Authenticity.

    When I was assigned my first management role, I was so concerned about making a good impression and pleasing my boss that I forgot who I was.   Instead of being that person who had always strived to do my best for the good of the team, I somehow took on this air that I was superior to my coworkers because I got promoted and I was their “boss.” And because of this, I was convinced I knew everything and was better than everyone on my team. But that attitude was not confidence, it was arrogance—and it was my way of covering up the insecurity I felt around my new role. Being authentic starts with recognizing those insecurities. Managing your peers, especially, if it is your first leadership role is scary. You should have fear and doubt about leading them. After all, they worked side by side with you until Grace told you they were going to work ‘for” you. I encourage you to check your ego at the door and be open and vulnerable with your coworkers. Authentically share your fears and your excitement with them. Most importantly, don’t let the new sense of authority displace your humility.

  2. Be adaptable and collaborate.

    Grace told you that you were promoted into the role of management for your stellar job performance—but you cannot rely solely on your own performance now. As the leader, in order to achieve the most effective results, you must be adaptable and collaborate with your team members. Since you have been working side by side with these individuals, many of them will feel threatened by you because you already know their “tricks” as in how they perform, what they like to work on and probably a whole lot more about what they don’t like. As their new leader, it is critical to re-establish your peers’ trust in you. You can’t assume that things will just be the same because you are the same person. You have a new role now. And you have to demonstrate to them that you are open to their ideas and welcome continued collaboration. Don’t be tempted to go in with a big agenda to do things completely differently now because you are the boss. Have individual meetings with each one of them to get their thoughts on what could change and how they see things operating with you at the helm. Find out how they would like you to lead and support them. Adapt your style to meet their needs, not the other way around. Be genuinely interested in getting their ideas on what is working and what could be improved. And when you receive their feedback, implement their ideas together.

  3. Use your new power wisely.

    Your new title can trick you into feeling an inflated sense of power—but I encourage you to use that perceived power very wisely. In fact, I want to give you a new definition of power, borrowed from the world of fitness: strength plus speed equals power. As the new leader, your strength comes in three forms. First, in creating and clearly communicating your intentions and the outcomes you expect your team to achieve. Second, in examining and value-checking your current processes and policies within the team. You probably already know some things that need to be improved, so co-create that with your team. Lastly, assign the right work to the right people. Make sure your team members are in roles that will make the best use of their skill sets and talents. Once you establish the strength in the team then move to action quickly. The faster that you can show your team how you can achieve results together, the faster they will embrace you as their leader.

Be authentic, not pretentious.  Show your coworkers you are a leader by collaborating with them for everyone’s success. Use your newfound power wisely.  Embrace these 3 tips and you and your co-workers will achieve outstanding results together while still maintaining the comradery and friendships!

Reflection Question: Have you had to lead your co-workers before?  If so, please share any techniques that worked well for you.  If not, think of a time when you had this happen to you.  Please share your feelings or thoughts on how the leader handled the transition.

Call for input: If you have a question about leading, supervising or managing people, please send an email to info@peopleleadership.com and the answer to your question may be featured in one of my weekly blog posts or weekly People Leadership Insights.

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