How to: Moving From Buddy to Boss

Many individual contributors who aspire to move up in their careers set their sights on assuming a management position. Often, this means being promoted to a role where one manages former peers – a transition and assumption of duty that may be fraught with potential pitfalls. Managers are often left alone with little to no training to support them in this key moment of transformation. Effective training that includes peer-to-peer relationship building can help emerging leaders avoid the common pitfalls.

What Can go Wrong When Transitioning to Management?

So, what could possibly go wrong when one moves from a buddy to boss? Any or all of the following are typical, and can occur even if completely unintended:

  • Change in the nature of former friendships can occur, such as former peers hesitating to raise issues due to concerns about negative evaluations or a reluctance to socialize after work for fear of compromising authority. Alternatively, your new manager may grieve the loss of these friendships and engage in inappropriate conversations or gossip to retain the “friendship” status.
  • Having the expectation that because their former peers are friends, they’ll automatically and without question respect them and follow through on work they delegate. New managers often find it difficult to hold their former peers accountable and have difficult conversations for fear of ruining these key relationships.
  • Not delegating challenging tasks because as a friend, they have been privy to how stressed their colleagues’ personal lives are, and they don’t want to cause them any additional strain; instead, the new manager does the work and gets overwhelmed.
  • Holding on to work that should be done by their direct reports because they are the “expert”. Many manager promotion decisions, especially at the front-line are based on performance as an individual contributor rather than potential of management success. Therefore, the manager often engages in behavior that made them successful in their previous role.
  • Being too nice and caving to unrealistic requests by their former peers because they don’t want to be viewed as a mean boss, or conversely, not agreeing with appropriate requests because they don’t want to be seen as too lenient.
  • Not understanding their role in communicating company messages and therefore not saying anything about changes in the way business is done or strategic decisions. Or worse, engaging in non-supportive messaging because they don’t agree with the strategic messaging and “they’ve been in the shoes of their team and knows it is dumb decision.”

How to Support Your Employees to Smoothly Move from Buddy to Boss

What can businesses and human resources do to smooth the path to being a new boss of former peers and friends and prevent the altered working relationships from going south? Here are a few tips for your new leaders:

Help them embrace the new role and its differences in relationships and responsibilities

Identify what has changed in their accountabilities, the tasks they do, and their relationships with direct reports, new peers, their manager, and others. Help them take proactive steps to find out what these various people expect of them in the manager role. Have them talk with their new manager and gain clarity on their responsibilities as a manager, specifically, what tasks should they continued to do, what should be delegated based on their new role and what should be removed from their list of responsibilities all together. 

Define and establish expectations

Former peers may try to see how serious the new manager is about behaving as their boss and test their limits. Encourage the new manager to head off this situation early by clearly articulating the new rules of engagement; for example, what are their expectations for giving status updates, the timeframes and quality standards for completing work, collaborating as a team, following policies such as working from home, working hours, communication, etc. If appropriate, help the new manager role play ways in which they can confront challenges of trust and increase the comfort level of their new role with former friends.

Educate them on communication and change techniques

New first-time managers don’t often have the skills to communicate company messages – where, when, and how. Further, they may lack the skills to lead their employees through changes in direction, policy, or processes. Support your new managers with education on how to communicate effectively, motivate and encourage their direct reports, and how to lead teams through times of changes. Their direct reports need information and context to be effective in their roles and to feel their work adds value – just as they did when they were their peer. New managers need to understand the definition of leadership, transparency, and about what information they can and cannot share. They need guidance to see the big picture and the “why” of any new direction they want to take the team in. Explain decisions they and upper management make that could impact their team’s work, how they were made, and why, and they need to be prepared to answer questions. This is especially true when it might be a company decision that they don’t agree with. First-time managers need to understand the damaging effects of gossiping with former peers and what boundaries cannot be crossed now that they hold a position of authority.

Encourage peer-to-peer relationships

Managers are expected to deliver business results that are achieved through their own work and that of their team rather than delivering results themselves. This may mean taking action even in ambiguous circumstances and getting their team’s commitment to execute on tasks. New managers need to focus on what they do know, seek subject matter experts’ perspectives, prioritize what’s most important for achieving results, seek their manager’s input/support if needed, and initiate action. The transition to first-time manager can leave managers feeling alone, abandoned and left on their own to navigate their new roles. Encourage new managers to build peer-to-peer relationships either through mentoring relationships or group coaching. These relationships will far outdure any training program that is put in place and will support cross-organizational collaboration and let the manager know they are not alone in this critical transition.

Keystone Partners: Experts in Helping New Leaders Transition from Buddy to Boss

The transition from buddy to boss can be filled with landmines, yet, with thoughtfulness and planning, you can help your new managers dodge them and they will be well on their way to success in their new role.

Connect with other new and aspiring leaders online with Keystone’s Emerging Leadership Development Program.

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