If you want to lead there is one inevitable aspect that will come into play in your career. There will be a time when a leadership position becomes open which you and your working peers/friends will want. At that point there are two strong possibilities. Either you get the position and then lead those that were once your peers or one of them gets the position and you have to follow them. This is at the least potentially very awkward or at worse downright treacherous to navigate. Whichever way it goes there are actions you can take to help make this transition a good one. In this post let’s take a look at what you can do if you are the one who is now leading your former peers.
Congratulations! You got the big promotion! You’ve worked hard for it and are ready to step into the role. Problem is there are likely others that also have worked hard and wanted to step into that role. How do you lead them effectively? While there are some potential envy and jealousy issues that some may need to work through on their own, there are several ways you can be proactive in trying to set the right environment.
STEP 1: DTR
And you thought the classic/awkward “Define the Relationship” discussions were only for dating relationships. Actually, though remaining somewhat awkward, knowing how to initiate a good “DTR” discussion is an invaluable skill to develop. In this situation you need to take the lead and approach your peers individually. Take a walk to a coffee shop or somewhere more neutral than the office. Be directly honest in addressing the situation but avoiding negative assumptions (“I know you must be jealous” for example would be a very bad thing to say). Assure the person that if the situation was reversed you might have had hurt feelings or disappointment. Let them talk and process frustrations they have while remembering these likely aren’t personal. Assure the person that while you acknowledge the relationship will experience some changes you still deeply value them and you look forward to working with them. This won’t instantly fix any existing hurt but if you will be honest and address it (and give it a little time) you will find it much better than just ignoring the problem.
STEP 2: Value their input
This seems like a no-brainer but I’ve seen the opposite happen on several occasions. Sometimes a new leader can feel the pressure to separate themselves from the team in order to prove nothing else but that they are now in charge. This is a passive-aggressive approach and will only have counterproductive results. A new leader needs to proactively lean into their
team, not away from them. This doesn’t mean the leader becomes patronizing nor does it mean they abdicate leadership for whatever the team wants. It does mean the leader seeks out advice from people on the team who have experience. Seeking out former peers individually and asking their input is a great step to take. You are not bound to follow it and you should be careful not to give the idea you absolutely will, however, you need to listen. This is a win/win because it brings a feeling of value to the team member and may also give you insights you didn’t have for your decision.
STEP 3: Empower their skills/undergird their weaknesses
An advantage to moving into a position where you are leading former peers is you have an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. You are in a great place to leverage these. There are projects and tasks you can assign to them giving a strong empowerment. In addition, you can also undergird any weaknesses you know they have. This can be done through a variety of methods (teaming them with others who are strong in the respective area, moving non-essential tasks away from them and giving them tasks they are more suited toward, or getting them connected to someone who can coach them to become stronger in this area). Whichever you choose, you have the chance to either position them toward their strengths or help them grow in a needed skill. Either way you are not only creating a stronger team member but you are also creating an environment where they see your leadership as a very positive thing for them.
As mentioned earlier this is a tricky situation to navigate. Because it may be tricky, however, doesn’t mean it’s not an opportunity for growth. The right mix of boldness and sensitivity will go a long way toward creating both a great work environment and possibly an even stronger project team. As you think on how your leadership influence can best reflect the work of Christ in your life you cannot allow this situation to be a divider. Seek to be proactive and help solve the potential issues before they become real workplace problems.
In the next post we’ll take a look at how to handle the situation when it’s not you who gets the coveted spot.
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