How to Manage Former Peers

When you take on a leadership role, your relationships with former peers have to change but old baggage tends to stick around. Navigating this transition can be a challenge.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets along with everybody. It’s highly likely that when you were a team member, you worked with someone who you didn’t have the highest respect for — either because of their work ethic, personality, communication style or any other various reasons — so you avoided them like the plague. And now that person works for you.

In addition, perhaps you had a confidant in your old role who shared your feelings about this person. Someone who you could vent to about this person’s latest mistake or mishandling of a project; someone you could blow off steam with so you didn’t come unglued in public. (Tacky, yes, but most people do talk about other people, especially the ones that irritate them.) And now your confidant works for you too.

So, what do you do now that the tables have turned and you’re the boss?

You certainly can’t behave the way you did when you were a team member. Here are two things you must do right now to get your team on track.

1. Have a meeting with every single member on your team.

Your team members may be worried about old baggage and have some concerns about how that will influence your ability to lead them. One of the best ways to eliminate that concern is to conduct one-on-one discussions with each team member. When you have this discussion, really listen to each team member. Talk about their goals, find out what daily activities they really enjoy and talk about the future of the team. It’s also important that you bring the team together to gain clarity on team roles and responsibilities, team mission and team goals.

2. Find a coach you can confide in.

Yes, you are going to need someone to talk things over with, to help you see the forest for the trees. This person should both challenge and support you as you grow in your new team leader role. You could search within your current organization or hire an external coach to help you. Just make sure you find someone that is not a member of your team.

Have you been promoted from a team member to a team leader? What challenges did you face? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. Follow her @askteamdoc.

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