Adjusting to role as the new boss

Promotion brings fresh set of peers and alters how you'll relate to, lead former co-workers


After 30 years at the National Agricultural Statistics Service in Washington, Carol House knows all about the rewards of a job well done.

But she's also acquainted with the elephant lurking behind every promotion that she or a colleague has ever received: Not only must they navigate new jobs and responsibilities, they also must forge new relationships with superiors and - perhaps most difficult - with the people they used to work with but who now work for them.

"Don't ignore the elephant in the room," says House, who as deputy administrator for programs and products and chair of the Agricultural Statistics Board is one of the top three people in her agency. "You need to talk about it."

Change for practically everyone involved is what makes the transition from worker, peer and friend to supervisor, manager and leader so difficult, experts say.

"It's a tough place to go. And it's really lonely," Terry Schaefer, principal of the Baltimore career coaching practice Rediscovery, says about workers who find themselves supervising former peers. "I'm 53, and I wouldn't want to do it again. I wouldn't have the chutzpah."

The person promoted has a new job. They may report to new people. Their former co-workers now report to them. Those workers likely will wonder what that means and how it's going to play out in the daily workday.

"They're used to dealing with you in a certain way," says Alicia Rodriguez, principal and founder of Sophia Associates, a Severna Park-based international executive and leadership coaching practice. "They certainly never reported to you. It's a whole different kind of relationship."

Making the most of the new role requires several changes, experts say. The recently promoted must be ready to finesse relationships with former co-workers and manage a brand-new set of workplace peers - all while excelling at the new job.

How to do that? First, new managers must realize they're not part of the gang anymore. And they shouldn't try to be, either.

"That probably confuses the worker more than it helps," says Mark Lifter, executive vice president of Aon Consulting, a global human resource consulting firm and part of Aon Corp., which has offices around the country, including Baltimore.

"People are looking for leadership. They're waiting for people to step up," Lifter says.

Clarice Scriber, president and chief executive of Clarity Consulting Inc. in Baltimore and a faculty member of the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching Program, says trying to stay peers may end up confusing those who promoted you.

Scriber says she recently worked with a new manager who seemed a bit too chummy with her former co-workers. Her bosses didn't think she was holding her new charges accountable. As a result, "she wasn't able to exert her authority."

"You're going to have to be careful and recognize you're no longer that person's peer," Scriber says.

Of course, it's never easy to change a relationship. And new managers want to avoid overreacting and becoming their department's dictator-in-residence. But trying to maintain the status quo can hurt a new leader.

"There can be an opportunity to be taken advantage of," Rodriguez says.

Experts recommend that instead of trying to remain one of the gang, the newly promoted should talk about their role.

Rodriguez suggests meeting with staff members individually, if possible. Talk about what the new relationship will look like: Can you still have lunch or coffee? Can you socialize after work? If so, what topics are off-limits? What are your standards of performance? Your expectations?

"You can't have accountability without an agreement," she says. "It's a matter of respect. You're respecting the people who now work for you."

If it becomes clear that someone has a problem with your new leadership role, experts say, it's better that you know that. Otherwise concerns will fester, and it could lead to larger problems.

"It's a difficult conversation," Rodriguez acknowledges. "A lot of people see it as losing the relationship. What it really is, is transforming the relationship."

Recently promoted workers should not be afraid to ask their bosses for help.

"In too many companies, it is, `Congratulations. Sink or swim,'" Scriber says.

Scribner says management should make a formal announcement outlining the new role, with a clear job description. The worker should then ask for resources. Does the company offer classes that will help someone grow into his new position? Does it provide coaching services? Can workers find employees who've followed a similar career path and talk to them about their experiences, mistakes and successes?

"Get the advice of others who've made similar kinds of moves," says Lifter, who works in Aon Consulting's Southfield, Mich., office and leads its talent solutions practice.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.