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Leading Former Peers: How to Do It Effectively
Getting a promotion you’ve worked hard for is a great feeling.
You can excel in your new leadership role without alienating your former peers.
But the transition from being a member of the team to being the leader of a team isn’t always a smooth one. Leading former peers sounds like it would be easy since everyone already knows you. But things will, by necessity, change, and you must be prepared for change and for the unexpected.
Remember that although you may see your former peers the same way you’ve always seen them, they may now see you differently. Understanding what they’re going through can help you learn to lead your former peers effectively. Being aware of potential pitfalls and being prepared to deal with them can help you make the transition with as little friction as possible. Here are some ways to do that.
Strive to Make Both Your Team Members and Your Boss Look Good
Although you may have been selected to lead, try to think of your promotion as being less about you, and more about helping both your former peers and your new supervisor shine. Striving to make them look good automatically makes you look good.
Doing this means giving credit where credit is due, resisting the temptation to take full credit for something the team has done. Calling out individuals who have gone above and beyond is also a good habit. Solving problems for yourself rather than always asking your supervisor for help is another smart practice.
Ask yourself every day how you can help your team members do their jobs and achieve their goals and act accordingly. When they do a great job and accomplish great things, it reflects on the team, on you, and on your boss as well.
Be Aware of Shifting Personal and Professional Boundaries
When you’re promoted, in many ways you’re no longer “one of the bunch.” You may have to rethink old habits, like Friday evening happy hour with the team. While you shouldn’t completely disengage (which can make you appear stuck up), your behavior should in some way reflect your changing role. This is true both with in-person activities and online ones.
Your relationships with peers will change, and you will need to rethink some of your personal boundaries.
For example, if your team regularly uses group chat to hammer out details, there’s no reason for you to recuse yourself completely, but your participation should reflect a certain amount of detachment. It’s a fine line to tread but striving to do so can keep you both in touch and in charge with minimal drama.
Deal with Resistance Directly
Maybe you got promoted over someone who expected to get the promotion. Or maybe someone on the team starts behaving in a passive-aggressive way toward you now that you are a leader. Time and adjustment may solve the problem but monitor the situation closely regardless.
If a former peer behaves irreverently or shows displeasure without challenging you directly, it’s up to you to be direct: “I’ve heard others’ comments that you’re not happy with my leadership. Let’s talk one on one so you can voice your concerns.” Doing this early, before rumors and gossip take hold, sets a precedent for honest communication and helps prevent people from complaining behind your back.
The transition from peer to leader doesn’t happen overnight, but you must make a daily effort to choose leadership and ask yourself if you are demonstrating the qualities that a good leader has, like good communication skills, confidence, and assertiveness. Leadership development programs may not cover the emotional aspects of becoming a leader, but they should.
Leadership coaching may also be a consideration for the new leader. If you got the promotion, you can be confident that you earned it. Yet you may still have doubts and face awkwardness when dealing with people who used to be your peers. Leadership coaching can help you gain a 360-degree view of your leadership capacity and help you map out an actionable plan for fulfilling your potential.
But you must be willing to step up and “own” leadership, along with the changes in relationship dynamics that often go along with it. If you’re interested in learning about Intelligent Leadership and what qualities and skills go into it, I invite you to check out my books, including my latest book, The Intelligent Leader.