How To: Moving From Buddy to Boss
By: Jodi Grossman
Many individual contributors who aspire to move up in their careers set their sights on assuming a management position. Often, this means being promoted to a role where one manages former peers – a transition and assumption of duty that is fraught with potential pitfalls. If you find yourself in this situation, it behooves you to be aware of these pitfalls and take intentional measures to prevent the risks.
So, what could possibly go wrong when one moves from buddy to boss? Any or all of the following are typical, and can occur even if completely unintended:
- Change in the nature of the former friendship; for example, former peers not speaking up about issues and problems because they’re concerned you’ll evaluate them negatively when before you commiserated with them, or, you not wanting to socialize after hours with former peers for fear of compromising your authority.
- Having the expectation that because your former peers are friends, they’ll automatically and without question respect you and follow through on work you delegate.
- Not delegating challenging tasks because as a friend, you’ve been privy to how stressed their personal lives are, and you don’t want to cause them any additional strain; instead you do the work and get overwhelmed.
- Doing work that should be done by your direct reports but holding on to it because you’re the “expert”.
- Being too nice and caving to unrealistic requests by your former peers because you don’t want to be viewed as a mean boss, or conversely, not agreeing with appropriate requests because you don’t want to be seen as too lenient.
What can one do to smooth the path to being a new boss of former buddies and prevent the altered working relationships from going south? Here are a few pointers:
- Embrace the new role and its differences in relationships and responsibilities. Identify what has changed in your accountabilities, the tasks you do, and your relationships with direct repots, new peers, your manager and others. Take steps to find out what these various people expect of you in the manager role.
- Define and establish expectations. Former peers may try to see how serious you are about behaving as their boss. Head off this situation early by clearly articulating the new rules of engagement; for example, what your expectations are for giving you status updates, the timeframes and quality standards for completing work, collaborating as a team, following policies such as working from home, working hours, etc.
- Share information. Your direct reports need information and context to be effective in their roles and to feel their work adds value – just as you did when you were their peer. Be transparent about information you can share and cannot share. Provide the big picture and the “why” of any new direction you want to take the team in. Explain decisions you and upper management make that could impact your team’s work, how they were made, and why, and be prepared to answer questions.
- Move forward. Managers are expected to deliver business results that are achieved through their own work and that of their team. This may mean taking action even in ambiguous circumstances, and getting your team’s commitment to execute on tasks. Focus on what you do know, seek subject matter experts’ perspectives, prioritize what’s most important for achieving results, seek your manager’s input/support if needed, and initiate action.
The transition from buddy to boss has landmines, but with thoughtfulness and planning, you can dodge them and be well on your way to success in your new role.