What to Do When Your Co-Worker Becomes the Boss (or You Do)
So, there you are: It’s that awkward moment when you’re told that a fellow colleague is now your new boss. Your mind races as the news sinks in. As you hide your initial shock and force a smile you can’t help but wonder—my lunch buddy is becoming my manager. Now what?
Or, you’re on the other side of the equation: You’ve just been promoted, and you know your role in the team dynamic will shift. Now, you are the one calling the shots.
If you’ve ever experienced either position, you’re not alone. Navigating change at work can be tough, especially when it comes to restructuring. So how do you handle the transition? Here are a few steps to do it gracefully.
If You’re the New Manager
Let’s start with newly appointed managers. As a leader among your former peers, your actions will speak louder than words. Begin your tenure by taking four actions to send all the right messages.
1. Tell Your Team
View telling your team about your step up not as a dreaded moment, but as an opportunity. Communicate with honesty about your new role, and share news of your promotion formally and in a way that will reach the entire team at once (i.e., no more going to your office BFF first, which could now be read as playing favorites).
Telling everyone together demonstrates that you will work to ensure equity for your team—and avoids any skepticism stemming from former colleagues hearing the information from someone other than you. Avoid this risk and establish what kind of leader you’ll be by being upfront with your entire team.
2. Get Their Endorsement
Is your team willing to trust you as their leader? To gauge this upfront, set up one-on-one meetings, and use them as an opportunity to ask direct reports if they are prepared to support you—or if they have any questions or concerns they’d like to discuss.
Asking for their endorsement may seem redundant or unnecessary (you were promoted, after all). But as every major airline knows, unless you directly ask someone if she is willing and able to open the emergency door, there is a chance that she won’t.
If someone isn’t supportive, ask him for a plan for how he might get on board. This is for his benefit—not yours. Helping him establish a plan to cope with the transition will benefit his career and is exactly what a strong manager would do.
3. Don’t Soften the Message, Up the Support
New leaders—particularly when they’re leading their former peers—often try to buy people’s love by softening their message. They may be less ambitious in the goals and expectations they set to ease transition. Avoid this temptation, and “up” the support instead! Rather than dismissing your team’s concerns, be honest. Let them know that change can be challenging at times, but that the success of the transition is largely dependent on each individual.
Use group time to ask for input on these three questions:
- What do you want in your workplace?
- What are you willing to do to get it?
- How can I support it?
While you can’t necessarily make the transition easier on your team, you can help them find ways to succeed in their new reality.
4. Encourage Your Employees
Even if you used to gossip by the water cooler with your work buddies, don’t let your new office be a portal for drama. If there is a line of people waiting with lists of issues for you to fix, resist the urge to react immediately. Listen, but don’t commit to fixing all of their problems.
Maintain a positive response of “duly noted” or “good to know,” and set up processing sessions. Avoid pushing your own solutions (a common new manager mistake), and instead, be a sounding board and guide your team in determining how they will reach their goals given their circumstances. This will empower your employees to generate results.
If You’re the Employee
Are you at the other end of the spectrum? As an employee, remember that you alone have the power to make this transition a career-limiting or career-enhancing experience through your actions. Here are four ways to make the most of the situation.
1. Step Up
No matter how you feel about your colleague becoming your new boss, it’s important to buy in early and show that you’re a willing partner. Embrace the situation and get on his calendar. Tell your boss that you are on board with the new team structure, and ask how you can support him during the transition.
Your actions and outlook are huge indicators of whether you’ll succeed moving forward.
2. Follow Your Boss’ Example
One thing’s for sure, your co-worker did something right, or else she wouldn’t have been promoted! So stop questioning why it was her (instead of you) and follow her example.
Use this as an opportunity to clean up your behavior. Ditch the jealousy, and look to your new manager as a role model. How is she delivering on what the company values? Do what your new manager did, and you might see the same rewards.
3. Accept Reality
You could see your colleague beating you out for a promotion as a setback—or as a decision that’s already been made. So avoid negative self-talk and use your energy to answer the question, “How can I improve?”
An “I’m not good enough” mindset—not your circumstances—is what’s holding you back. Adopting a fresh outlook and redirecting your energy will make all the difference. You may even find you prefer your co-worker to your old boss!
4. Change the Conversation
If you hear fellow colleagues complaining, change the energy of the conversation. Say something sincere and positive about your new leader. Then, ask everyone involved about how they can help to mitigate their own fears or complaints.
After all, you never know when you could be next in line for that big promotion.
Photo of heads courtesy of Shutterstock.
Cy Wakeman is a national keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times bestselling author, blogger and trainer who has spent over 20 years cultivating a revolutionary, reality-based approach to leadership. For more on Cy, check out www.realitybasedleadership.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.More from this Author