Becoming the Boss Doesn’t Mean Burning Bridges: Working With Former Peers When You Get a Promotion

“If I were in charge, things would be different around here!”

How many times have you uttered those words at work? Almost everyone dreams of being the boss and running their department the way they see fit, and sometimes, with hard work and commitment, you actually land the promotion.

New job title comes with new responsibilities

However, along with the plush new office and hefty raise, you gain a whole new level of responsibility – and if you are now in charge of your former coworkers, the potential for a few personnel headaches. When you suddenly become the boss, there’s a good chance you could face resentment, envy and even anger from those people who you used to work alongside. You can avoid some of those problems, though, if you take steps to manage your relationships early on.

Communicate Effectively

Communicating effectively with your new reports begins with the announcement of your new role. It’s always best when your coworkers hear the news of your promotion from another source, such as the department head to give you necessary credibility. He or she should make it clear why you were the best person for the job, sharing your education, accomplishments or unique qualifications so that the rest of the staff does not suspect favoritism played a role in your promotion.

Once you transition into your new role, it’s important to open the lines of communication with your staff. Make it clear that you respect your staff and that you expect respect from them. Establishing your expectations early on can go a long way to making the transition smooth for everyone. Share your vision for the department, making it clear how you plan to make improvements, and request feedback from your employees.

Establish New Boundaries

Before your promotion, you were “one of the guys,” hanging out with your coworkers during breaks and after work. You were privy to all of the gossip and may have shared personal views and information.

Becoming the boss means establishing new relationships with your coworkers, and putting some of your friendships on the back burner while you establish yourself in your new role. When you are in a position to conduct performance reviews, grant raises and promotions and even fire people, it’s usually not a good idea to socialize outside of work. You can be friendly and approachable, but no longer participate in gossip or venting sessions.

Working with former peers

Stay Involved With the Department

You’ve heard the expression “Don’t forget where you came from,” and that holds true when you are promoted. When your former peers are swamped with work, that’s not the time for lunch with the other managers. Roll up your sleeves and work with them and help them get the job done. You’ll show that you are still on their team.

Address Offenses

Some of your former coworkers may expect that their existing relationship with you will stay the same after your promotion and try to take advantage of you. However, in order to maintain the respect of the whole staff, you need to maintain the same standards for everyone, and confront issues promptly. If a staff member continually comes in late or fails to complete their work, discuss the issue with him or her and make it clear that their behavior won’t be tolerated. It may not be fun to discipline your former coworkers, but if you do not establish your authority and command respect from the start, you will most likely never be an effective leader.

Resist the Temptation to Make Large-Scale Changes – For Now

As someone who used to work in the department, you have a unique perspective on what is working well and what needs to be fixed. However, you need to resist the urge to come in and “clean house” and attempt to fix every problem by making major changes. You might discover that looking at things from the perspective of management changes your feelings on certain matters or that you don’t have all of the answers. Take time to talk with your employees and get their input on what is working and what isn’t, and make changes incrementally. Changing everything at once is rarely effective and you could find that you make things worse rather than better.

Earning a promotion is exciting, and you should be proud of your accomplishment. Don’t let issues with your former coworkers taint your new leadership role, but instead maintain your professional demeanor and you’ll soon earn their respect and admiration.