Life is full of awkward moments: the first kiss, an interview candidate having spinach stuck in their teeth, having your boss catch you leaving the wrong restroom. But one of the most awkward situations you can encounter in business is when someone goes from being a peer to being the boss. There are two sides to that awkward moment too – either you’ve become the boss or your peer has.
Usually this occurrence is an unexpected situation. Many organizations are actually wise enough to prevent it from happening exactly because of the weird dynamics such a change can create. Given that it’s unexpected, it prevents all involved from preparing for the impending change (which in turn makes it even more awkward when it happens). Many times such situations are the direct result of a reorganization or the departure of some individuals from the team which creates an immediate need for a fill for that vacancy.
There are three situations I’d like to explore: you become the manager, your peer becomes the manager, and you’re the big boss considering creating such a situation within your team.
Congratulations Charles! You’re in charge!
It finally happened! You’ve been promoted. Congrats! Break out the Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante (you’ve got great taste and it show-ohs!). Oh wait… what? You’re now leading the team just seconds ago you were a member of? Weird.
Suddenly people you were “buds” with become your subordinates. They’re instantly on pins and needles wondering how you’re going to behave as their manager since you’re now clearly no longer a member of the gang. You’ve moved from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. You’re no longer privy to the snarky jokes or inside gossip about what’s going on in the organization – you’re now the subject of said comments, jokes, and gossip.
I was put in exactly such a situation. I worked with three other hard charging guys who were exponentially more intelligent than I. They knew their business units better than anyone ever had and we all got along quite well as friends. We shared ideas and thoughts on what was going well (and not so well) in the organization and we worked together very collaboratively. Then came the day of the reorganization and their three business units showed up on the org chart as reporting to me. The first conversation was a little tense and anxious.
Everything worked out fine. How?
Who’s the boss?!?!?
It’s going to happen. The person you were just talking to complaining about your boss, the organization, and anything else you can find to gripe about is going to walk in one day and say “I’m in charge now.” You’ll quickly hit rewind to review every confidential peer conversation you’ve had with them to look for things that will put you at risk or on bad footing with your new boss (who used to be your bud and your confidante). This is the primary source of the awkwardness mentioned above.
Get over it. Quickly. They’re your boss. They feel just as weird as you do. The best (and most appreciated) thing you can do is make their transition easy. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them a chance to lead. Show some respect. Support them. Make your expectations and needs known and candidly give them feedback when they’re being too much of a peer (wishy-washy) or too much of what they think a good boss is (micromanager). Help them learn how to best manage you for the best results. You need to manage up in this situation and show respect rather than gossip and undermine your new manager. Remember – they were your peer and friend at one point. Treat them as such.
You’re the big boss
You have a vacancy you need to fill. You look into the organization and can promote someone into the role but it will create this awkward peer-to-boss dynamic. You can do it but set everyone up for success. Sit down with the new boss and explain your expectations of the role and highlight some of the transition difficulties of moving from peer to boss. Give them ongoing coaching during that period of change. Sit down with the team directly and let them know you expect them to support their former peer and acknowledge the awkwardness. Talk about how you’ll be coaching the new boss to ensure the team members can continue to do an outstanding job. Do your best to facilitate the change through the “weird” period.
Going from peer to boss creates an awkward situation for all involved. Call out the elephant on the table and keep the dialog open and you’re chances for a successful transition go up exponentially.
- Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC