Recently I meet the Chair of a cause-based organisation who was lamenting the pickle her organisation had got itself into with the appointment of a new senior manager.
The vacancy came up unexpectedly and we had so much work on we didn’t have time to go through a lengthy and expensive recruitment process. So we tapped Cheryl (name changed to protect the bewildered) on the shoulder and gave her the job. Cheryl has been with us for ages and we thought everyone would be happy. Now everything has gone pear-shaped.
The situation the Chair and her organisation find themselves in unfortunately is fairly common in our sector and leads to a number of awkward and uncomfortable moments that we often aren’t too well prepared to deal with.
So how do we respond? In doing some research on this transition from peer to boss, team member to leader, player to coach situation, I came across an interesting take on this dilemma by Mike Figliuolo which is well worth sharing.
Basically Mike contends that usually there are three scenarios at play here and a strategy is needed for each: you become the manager, your peer becomes the manager, and you’re the leader (Chairman or CEO) considering creating such a situation within your team – and each requires a considered response.
Congratulations Cheryl! You’re it!
As Mike says …
It finally happened! You’ve been promoted. Congrats! Break out the Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante (you’ve got great taste and it show-ohs!). Oh wait… what? You’re now leading the team just seconds ago you were a member of? Weird.
Suddenly people you were mates with become your subordinates. They’re instantly on pins and needles wondering how you’re going to behave as their manager since you’re now clearly no longer a member of the gang. You’ve moved from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. You’re no longer privy to the snarky jokes or inside gossip about what’s going on in the organization – you’re now the subject of said comments, jokes, and gossip. But if you handle the transition well by doing four simple things, it’ll go a lot smoother”.
Mike went through this exact situation and this is how he successfully dealt with it:
First, acknowledge the weirdness. It’s the elephant in the room. Get everyone to say it feels awkward and get them to commit to making it work (you have to make the same commitment by the way). Acknowledging discomfort is the only way to truly focus on it and make it go away.
– Second, articulate your leadership approach and philosophy (maybe even lay out a few leadership principles). Don’t lay it down as law – simply state how you plan on leading the team and what your expectations are. Also ask what their expectations are of you and commit to meeting them. If you’re serious about doing a great job of articulating who you are as a leader and what you expect from them.
– Third, let them do their job. They’ve been doing it well. In their minds, there’s nothing worse than someone (especially a “peer”) coming in and micromanaging them when they’ve been doing well before the change. Resist the urge to lay down the law or tell them how to do things because you think such behaviours will send the message that you’re in charge. Everyone already knows you’re in charge! The org announcement said so! Such “in charge” behaviours make you come across like an insecure bully.
– Fourth, remember you’re the boss and no longer their mate. Yes you can still goof around with them but you must establish that fraternization line and no longer cross it. Do these four things and the transition and relationship should go well.”
Invariably when one of the team moves up, there are other left behind. Again Mike’s comment is:
It’s going to happen. The person you were just talking to complaining about your boss, the organization, and anything else you can find to gripe about is going to walk in one day and say “I’m in charge now.” You’ll quickly hit rewind to review every confidential peer conversation you’ve had with them to look for things that will put you at risk or on bad footing with your new boss (who used to be your bud and your confidante). This is the primary source of the awkwardness mentioned above.
Get over it. Quickly. They’re your boss. They feel just as weird as you do. The best (and most appreciated) thing you can do is make their transition easy. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them a chance to lead. Show some respect. Support them. Make your expectations and needs known and candidly give them feedback when they’re being too much of a peer (wishy-washy) or too much of what they think a good boss is (micromanager). Help them learn how to best manage you for the best results. You need to manage up in this situation and show respect rather than gossip and undermine your new manager. Remember – they were your peer and friend at one point. Treat them as such.
You’re the Chairman or CEO
So you have an unexpected vacancy to fill. There are programs to deliver, the world won’t stand still while we go through and full recruitment process. You look into the organization and can promote Cheryl into the role but it will create this awkward “mintie moment”. Mike’s suggestion in this situation is to aim to set everyone up for success.
Sit down with the new boss and explain your expectations of the role and highlight some of the transition difficulties of moving from peer to boss. Give them ongoing coaching during that period of change. Sit down with the team directly and let them know you expect them to support their former peer and acknowledge the awkwardness. Talk about how you’ll be coaching the new boss to ensure the team members can continue to do an outstanding job. Do your best to facilitate the change through the “weird” period.
Sure the transition from team member to team leader, peer to boss can cause a degree of discomfort for all involved. A way to avoid the pain is to have clearly articulated and transparent succession and management transition plans in place. Cause and Effective can assist even the smallest of organisations with these. If you haven’t been able to put one in place, take Mike’s advice:
Call out the elephant and keep the dialog open and you’re chances for a successful transition goes up exponentially
Author: Chris Gandy, Director, Cause and Effective