The moment you find out that the promotion you have been preparing and striving for is yours can be filled with a sense of satisfaction, excitement and visions of all you will accomplish moving forward. And then there are the second thoughts.
That’s when you realize you will now supervise many of the same people who used to be your peers. You will be expected to have a strong plan for how the team will function. Relationships will change. And, your name will be on the line for team results. How you respond in those first days and weeks will reassure senior leaders they made the right choice and show your team you have the courage, confidence and humility to lead.
Your new opportunity likely brings up a lot of different emotions. You are both excited and ready to roll, and a bit anxious and overwhelmed. Your coworkers (now direct reports) are also experiencing a range of emotions. Some may feel you are the perfect choice and be pleased. Others may be deeply disappointed (even resentful) you were chosen instead of them. Close friends may even think your promotion comes with benefits for them.
The author of Leadership Solutions and a team effectiveness consultant, Liane Davey, suggests doing three things right away. Hold one-on-one meetings with team members. Host a team planning session. And, intervene quickly with people resistant to your leadership.
Talk about it individually
Schedule individual, private meetings with each team member to get a sense of what each person is thinking, ask candid questions and share thoughts about the transition.
Although you may be anxious to talk about all your new ideas, start by listening. You may have talked with these folks every day for the past two years, but it was never as their boss. Ask about their key objectives, obstacles they face, goals for the future and ways you can support them. Listening first will enable you to glean new insights and show team members you will be an inclusive leader who values their contributions.
At the same time, be careful not to downplay your new role. It can be tempting to take a self-deprecating stance or assure folks nothing will change. That’s not true and will work against your ability to lead. “If you’re going to establish yourself as the boss, you need to balance the friendly and inclusive approach with some signs of strength,” Davey writes. You can share honestly that this is a big transition for you and still be clear that you are well-prepared and up to the task with the help and support of the team.
Hold your first team meeting
This is a great chance to demonstrate new leadership without being heavy handed simply by changing things up. Hold the meeting in a new location and time, provide creative avenues for input and run the agenda differently. This will clearly position you as appropriately taking charge, marks the transition from “then” to “now,” and enables you to create a meeting schedule and format that works for you.
This is also a good time to bring in some of the ideas and concerns raised in the one-on-one meetings and to clarify things that will stay the same and those you plan to change.
Your first group meeting is also the perfect time to briefly share your leadership philosophy. With just two or three well-thought-out, succinct points, you can let the team know how you want to operate and where you’re going. If you are already aware of long-simmering issues, you can also address them openly now, seek input and develop new approaches to meet them.
Deal with dissent
You’re off to a good start. You’ve met with everyone individually and now you’ve met with the group as a whole so it should be smooth sailing moving forward. Except, there may be team members who struggle to accept your transition from peer to boss and who challenge your authority. Davey urges dealing with them swiftly and firmly.
She points out that such challenges can take many forms, both overt and covert. Team members may circumvent you and make decisions without you or even go over your head. Resistant team members might also test your authority by re-opening issues you have already decided as a way to push their own agenda or sow dissent.
More covert actions might include disrespectful body language and tone, excessive complaining behind your back or even disengaging. Davey suggests an immediate, measured response as your first line of attack. You might say something as simple as, “Jack, you have been very quiet in our meeting today. What are your thoughts on the new marketing plan?”
If things don’t improve, meet with difficult individuals one-on-one to calmly point out problematic behaviors and ask for change. Davey suggests saying, “I’m concerned that you’re not making the transition to me being the leader of the team. What are you willing to do differently to show you’re on board?” If you receive pushback from multiple members, you will have to address the issues both individually and in a group meeting.
Enjoy the process
Transitioning from colleague to boss is a critical step in your leadership journey and one you’ve earned. Your own boss, other mentors and your WFF network are excellent resources for insights on how others have navigated these waters as you chart your own path.