Not all employees are created equal; some will inevitably rise in the ranks, while others will not. And that upward mobility can come quickly, especially in places like Silicon Valley, where rapid business growth is common and internal promotions help fill key positions more efficiently. If you're one of the ones to climb the ladder, however, remember this: There's a good chance you'll wind up managing people who were once your peers. Sound awkward? It doesn't have to be. With the right tactics, newly promoted managers can earn the respect of their employees and keep the group moving forward.
Here are a few tips:
Step confidently into the new role--but remain humble. Yes, you got the job for a reason. There's no need to feel guilty. In fact, you should be proud! At the same time, however, understand that things could have gone differently. You might be the best person for the job, but you're not the only person for the job.
Pay attention to relationships. Be sensitive to the fact that some folks might feel resentment or anger. Perhaps they'll think they deserved the job more than you. I've seen it happen many times, and I've learned that handling these uncomfortable situations is easier if you've already cultivated strong, solid relationships with your team.
Now, that doesn't mean you should try to be everyone's buddy. When your peers are also your friends outside the office, it can be far more challenging for them to accept a transition to "subordinate." The safest route is to be cordial and collegial in the workplace while maintaining some personal distance. And if you treat your former peers in the same transparent way that you've always treated people who work for you, you'll show them you haven't become a new person as a result of the job change. You're not suddenly better than they are in any way--you've just become their boss.
Be clear about your expectations for performance. Of course, becoming the boss means it's now your responsibility to manage the group effectively. Establish early on what you expect from your team and what you will need them to do in order to meet objectives. Then quickly assess who will be able to commit to those expectations and who won't.
Hopefully, you've maintained strong enough relationships that your new employees already have a deep respect for you and understand your expectations. If not--or if you're dealing with someone who just can't handle the change--the unfortunate next step involves coaching them into alignment with your goals or managing them out. Sometimes, despite your best intentions and efforts, people will leave. And, if they can't meet your expectations, their departures might be for the best.
Tell the team what to expect from you. If you move quickly to communicate with your team about what you expect from them, you've got a good start in your new role. But you also have to look at leadership as being in service for the people who work for you. This is one of the things that distinguishes a great boss from a mediocre one: the ability to be empowering to the team, as opposed to just being in power. Respect cannot be commanded; it can only be earned. You do this by outlining how your team can now expect you to work on their behalf.
I had a new boss once--one I inherited, not one I interviewed with or had worked with before--who came to me when he took over and said, "I'm not here to tell you what to do; you know what to do. I'm here to give you what you need to succeed." What a breath of fresh air, knowing that he was there to unlock the resources I needed to do my job better. This, in my opinion, is how leaders create leaders.
If you someday find yourself managing former peers, trust that there's a good reason for the move. Rely on the solid relationships you've built, but keep strengthening them by opening a two-way dialogue about expectations. The change can--and should--be a positive one for the entire group. You're now in a position to help these folks in a way you couldn't as their peer, so if everyone collaborates, you will all thrive.