From coworker to boss: Managing former colleagues







You left work Friday as one of the gang. That evening, your colleagues celebrated your new promotion in an evening filled with laughter, reminiscence and merriment. You returned to work Monday as their boss, excited for the opportunity to move ahead professionally and make a difference in the workplace.

Today, you’re beginning to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. You are now one those people you and friends used to grumble about over lunch and during happy hour. People who were toasting you a few days ago are eyeing you suspiciously now. You’ve already had to give corrective feedback to someone you consider a friend, and it was much harder than you expected.

Welcome to management!

Moving directly from a staff position into a supervisory role can be one of the more difficult transitions in work life. You prepared yourself and worked hard to get here. You deserve it. Your bosses and old coworkers all know that. But that doesn’t necessarily make the switch any easier.

One of your first challenges is feeling confident that you’re prepared to do the new job. Many cost-conscious employers long ago started cutting back on employee scrabbledevelopment programs, laying off internal trainers and eliminating budgets for outside learning opportunities. But of all the traits people usually describe as important for leaders, competence is a given and your new team members will expect you to know what you’re doing. Make sure you do, even if it means finding some development opportunities on your own.

Your former coworkers will expect a higher level of empathy from you, given that you’ve just left their ranks. You know when the higher ups are being unreasonable. Your bosses, on the other hand, might expect you to know who the less productive members of the team are and focus on either improving their performance or building a case to manage them out.

Your understanding of work processes at this level can help you build credibility with team members and more senior managers alike, thus contributing to your success, if you take the right steps to build appropriate relationships with the people you now supervise.

  1. Get reacquainted. Meet with the people you now supervise − collectively and individually − to start reshaping your relationship. Discuss how your role and responsibilities have changed, talk about your expectations of them and solicit their ideas and support in making your and their jobs as stress-free as possible.
  2. Redefine the boundaries. Your new role and new relationship with your team members means no more gripe sessions about senior management, even when you find some of the dictates and expectations unreasonable.  Expect the people you supervise to see you differently and not speak as openly with you as they once did.
  3. Empower your team. Don’t pretend you have all the wisdom or all the answers.  Make it known that you are open to ideas and input. Solicit suggestions and give proper credit when you implement them. This will make people much more willing to help you solve problems.
  4. Trust your team members. Remember thinking the boss didn’t give you the space to do your job? Here’s your chance to change that for the people who now report to you. Give the competent members of your team autonomy to get their work done, while letting them know you are there when they need you. Coach those who are struggling without embarrassing them. Helping someone get better at what they do is a great way to build loyalty.
  5. Be fair. You’ve probably made friendships with coworkers − some better than others. Allowing those friendships to cloud your judgment can undercut your effectiveness as the supervisor and undermine the cohesiveness of the team. Not every person needs to be treated the same, because they do not all contribute at the same level. But every person does need to be treated fairly and with respect.
  6. Admit your mistakes. Some managers believe they should never admit being wrong to people they supervise. A few years back, some graduate management programs were even teaching this. The problem is, if you screw up your employees probably already know it whether you admit it or not. The workplace should be a learning environment and admitting a mistake allows the people you supervise to help you find the right answers and grow in your new job.
  7. Be yourself. Your role is different, but you aren’t. It’s fine for your team members to like you, something too many managers either ignore or forget. Likeability is a bankable trait that can help you maintain good relationships with the people you supervise, diffuse tense situations and improve productivity.


©2014 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved


Robert Naylor is a journalist, consultant, certified coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit  naylorcoaching online or contact

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