preparation on managing your former peers

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others,
but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

― John Maxwell

Congratulations! You just received the promotion of the lifetime. You have gone from “Bud To Boss” and the excitement is overwhelming. You can’t resist in sharing the good news with your coworkers and teammates until you realize that you’ll now be managing these same folks.

(Cue: dramatic pause, deep breath and sigh)

Being promoted to lead your former peers can be an exciting and challenging opportunity…if you’re prepared. Here are four actions you should consider taking from day one to ensure success in your new role.

Aside from not being able to openly share your good news with your former peers (and possibly work friends) – you now realize that some of them were also hoping to land this new role which makes this exciting time for you seem way less exciting and more anxiety producing. Being a (new) manager is hard enough under any circumstances, and it’s especially difficult when you’re managing people who used to be your peers.

According to research conducted through Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business, there are some things you can (and should do) to gain your new teams trust: 

  • Be an excellent listener
  • Take initiative to find creative solutions for complex problems
  • Follow through on goals & strive for consistency and transparency
  • Communicate clear lines of workflow and process
  • Focus on inspiring your team, rather than intimidating tactics
  • Accept changes as part of growth, and encourage your people to do the same

Although this is a great aspirational list, it doesn’t quite provide you the necessary framework and steps to successfully begin easing your transition. To take some of the guesswork out of this for you, a recent HBR article titled “What to Do First When Managing Former Peers” suggests the following high-level action steps to take as soon as possible:

  • Plan one-on-one meetings with individuals.
  • Create a team planning session.
  • Prepare for swift interventions with resistant individuals.

Now to avoid any mutiny within the ranks and to shore up your present and future ability to succeed in your new role, let’s take a more prescriptive dive into what actions are needed on your part. These are not in order but rather reminders of what to do and where to focus your attention.

Address The Team

It’s time to level set, clear the air and set the tone for your new relationship moving forward in a team meeting. As prescribed in the HBR article:

  1. Start by discussing the purpose of the team, as this is the chance to evolve the mandate in accordance with changing times.
  2. Bring in some of the ideas from the one-on-one conversations you had beforehand and engage in a discussion about where you need to continue on the same path and where you need to change the trajectory. By making some modifications to the goals or priorities of the team, you will demonstrate that you’re leader in your own right.
  3. Discuss the ideal meeting cadence for the team. What are the different types of meetings you’ll need, how frequently do you need them, and with what durations? Meetings are often associated with the leaders who established them, so setting out your own meeting formats and times goes a long way toward ushering in the new era under your leadership. 
  4. Spend some time explaining how you like to operate and what your rules of the road are going to be. If you can distill your philosophies into two or three guiding principles, it’s really useful.

People Parameters

It’s now time to create some professional boundaries – something that you didn’t need in your previous role. Avoid gossiping, complaining about work, and (wait for it…) less outside-of-work socializing. Meeting up for drinks and other outside activity isn’t going to produce the space you need to grow in(to) your new role. Close friendships outside of work just aren’t smart when you’re managing people’s performance and making decisions about their raises, promotions, assignments, and potential layoffs and firing.

Level Up

Engage your new peers. Seeking insight and advice from other managers (new or old) will help you create a sense of familiarity (something you brain naturally craves) and begin building your confidence in your new role. Don’t be afraid to dive in and ask them for their thoughts on key processes you may now be accountable for such as year-end performance reviews and budget management.

Social Media

Change your privacy settings. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be posting anything online that could or would derail your professional career but considering you may already be connected to your new team from your previous role – it’s time to rethink the connection. Remember, you may be adding not just new people on your old team but your new peer group may hear or see things that you would rather stay private. If you were vigilant about your social media habits before then you needn’t worry.


Final thoughts:
The quickest path to emotional happiness is in recognizing that the dynamics have changed in many ways. You can’t have the same relationships with your former team that you used to have. Your new level of leadership introduces a new paradigm to the power dynamics and it simply won’t be sustainable to have what you had before.

Take comfort knowing that this transition is completely normal and the key to success lies in creating a strategy, which includes setting new boundaries and most importantly transforming your behavior. Above all, go easy on yourself. You’re in a new role and the transition is a learning process and opportunity. You were chosen for this role because someone saw you possessed the abilities and confidence to be there – so don’t forget that. You earned it. 

The floor is yours: What’s your recipe for being a successful manager?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership,

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