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What to Do When the New Boss Is You

July 3, 2018

How do you make the pivot from being someone’s teammate to being their boss? Of course, there are the projects and tasks that you’re now responsible for, but what about the changed relationships that are now all around you?

It’s incredibly common. Most small and mid-size companies prefer to promote from within, leaning on current members where culture fit and technical skill are well established. That’s a beautiful thing. But it’s also a potential emotional minefield. How do you step into the new role — and embrace the reality of your new position of authority — without undermining the trust of your colleagues? And, how does your team pivot into this new configuration, and allow themselves to be held accountable by someone who used to be ‘one of the guys’?

The key here is to get curious, open up the dialogue, make it okay to have mixed emotions, and work through it over time. And if it’s been a while since you took on the lead role, it’s never too late to start.

Find a way to open the conversation in your words.

Hey, I just want you to know this is a bit awkward for me too. I wish that it wasn’t going to change our personal relationship but I know that’s not realistic. My hope is that we can talk openly and honestly about whatever comes up along the way as we make this transition.

Be real with the non-simplicity of the situation.

I’m wondering how it is for you that I got this new role? I can imagine there must be some mixed emotions. I want you to know that I’m open to talking about that or anything else that would help us get current. Okay?

Speak to the responsibility that comes with authority.

I know we’ve shared our frustration about leadership in the past, and now that’s a little bit more me. I know getting promoted doesn’t mean I’m perfect, and it’s now on me to coach you through the things I see holding you back. I just want you to know that’s going to take some getting used to for me too.

Maybe the next time the team is going out for a drink you hang back. Not because you’re now somehow better than anyone, but out of respect for the new reality.

Honor the role and the new step on the journey you’ve taken. Appreciate the challenge that it presents for your former peers. Take the time to consider what you need to take care of yourself in the process.

Taking on a leadership role is worth it. There are things you can’t learn about yourself any other way. The only mistake you can make is to pretend it didn’t happen.

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