90 Days: Managing Your Former Peers Takes Extra Effort
It seems like a great promotion -- leading a team of people you already know well. But you'll need to work hard to avoid the pitfalls.
By ELIZABETH GARONE
Special to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
It sounds like the ideal promotion: a management position in which you get to oversee your former peers, people with whom you already have a rapport and whose work habits you already know. But, if you're not careful, the transition can be anything but easy or smooth, according to career coach Sherri Thomas, author of the book "Career Smart: 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand."
Your first 90 days
Beware the two extremes. New managers often fall into one of two categories: overbearing and power-happy or unable to step up to the plate and manage even the simplest projects. "Some managers jump into their new role using a more forceful and bullying style to show that they have more 'power' within the department and the company. They tend to dominate meetings, make key decisions without asking team members for input, and even micromanage the smallest projects," explains Ms. Thomas. "While they are eager to accomplish goals and impress senior managers, they usually create feelings of resentment, withdrawal, and even hostility among key team members." This results in an unproductive team whose members are more likely to leave the department, or in the worst case, try to sabotage the manager in his or her new position. Your former friends can easily turn on you if you adopt either persona.
Don't undermine your new position. On the other end are the new managers who spend all of their time worried about losing the friendship of the former peers they now manage. "Some new managers implement a softer, more collaborative management style because they want to preserve friendships.," says Ms. Thomas. Do that and you could end up having a hard time making decisions, resolving conflicts, and leading through difficult situations," she says. You also won't be able to gain the respect you need to lead the team if you fall into this trap. Instead, make sure you quell problems quickly rather than let them languish. Take a softer approach when appropriate, but if you need to take charge, do so.
Strengthen your credibility. As a new manager, you need to fully understand senior management's expectations of you -- and your team as a whole. "You need to be able to clearly articulate and role model the company's vision as well as the team's role and goals," says Ms. Thomas. Go to your supervisor first and come up with an outline for what's expected of you. Call a meeting with your staff to give an overview so there's less chance they'll feel left in the dark.
Align your expectations with those of your team. It is also imperative to understand your team members' needs and to help them realize their unique contributions to the team. Take the time to meet one-on-one with them and discuss their roles and responsibilities, align on expectations, and address any issues. "Specifically, you should share how you plan to manage the program and team, including your own personal management style, how decisions will be made, and how conflicts will be resolved," says Ms. Thomas. "It's critical that the manager asks if the employee has any concerns and really listens to the answer." And it's even more important in a situation where you're managing people you sat shoulder-to-shoulder with just days before.
Establish a support network. One area new managers often overlook is establishing a strong network of mentors and coaches who can provide strategies, support, and inspiration needed to succeed. "Network with those who have been successful managers, and those who you admire as a leader," Ms. Thomas says. Those managers can also point out mistakes they made when they were in the same shoes.
Realize that mistakes are okay. Everyone makes mistakes, especially in those first few months. But, that's okay. "It takes time and experience to become a good manager. Every successful manager has had to overcome difficult challenges," says Ms. Thomas. "But having a network in place to help coach you through these situations can help you ramp up quickly into your new role, and set yourself up for success."
Write to Elizabeth Garone at firstname.lastname@example.org