Young professionals often face the questions, “What do I want in my career, and how do I create a path to get there?” For some, the answer is in making smaller moves into supervisory positions, while others see themselves in a leadership role in the C-suite. Building experience developing subject matter expertise and learning technical, strategic and people skills will help move you ahead in your career.
As you climb up the career ladder, chances are you will be promoted or moved into a position where you will manage your former team members. You may even consider some of these people to be friends. Your transition into management can be as uncomfortable for your colleagues as it is for you. While you may want to maintain these friendships, it will be difficult as their manager. Setting clear boundaries can make this transition easier for everyone.
Here are the three ways to establish boundaries with your former peers and more easily move into your management role.
1. Acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation.
It doesn’t matter how well you got along with the people in your department previously; becoming their boss is going to be awkward. Own it, even laugh about it, but let people know that you feel it will be awkward in the beginning too.
It is important to establish clear boundaries and communicate them upfront. Let your employees know that there will be changes, and while you can’t talk about confidential company information or spend time with them outside work, you can still go to lunch with your team.
Continue to honor your co-workers’ friendships by asking for their opinions of where you can grow as a manager and leader. As leaders, we feel like we shouldn’t show any vulnerability, but it is actually a strength to be able to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing all the time, and I need your help.” Showing that you’re human will gain great respect for you. Because you respect your former co-workers’ honesty and trust what they say, it gives them a task that not everyone else has and keeps those tight friendships professional.
As a new manager, you can also use this time to create a spirit of collaboration among your team. It is a new opportunity for you and your employees to forge ahead and set goals and objectives, and for you to show them what direction you will take now that you are the leader. The more changes that are made without clear direction, the more people will be uncertain about their careers and your leadership.
2. Set up one-on-one meetings with everyone in your department.
The purpose of individual meetings is to personalize each message and be more candid than in a group setting. If you don’t have regular checkpoints with your employees, it opens the door to self-doubt and stress. They will be constantly processing how you view them as workers and what it means for their positions now that you are their manager. Without regular communication, the opportunity arises to create a narrative in their heads that may be incorrect.
In your one-on-one meetings, spend 80% or more of the time listening to your employees. Ask them about their workflows and if there is anything they need from you to do their job better.
Inquire about any training or development conversations they had with their former supervisor, and assure them that you will support their career path. Remember to really listen to their answers and repeat or rephrase what they say. This will ensure your understanding of what is discussed and let them know you’re really listening.
At the end of each meeting, ask employees for help in specific areas where they will add value to the department. Your employees will see this as an opportunity to secure their positions on the team.
3. Find your alpha dog.
If you were promoted, chances are good that you were the alpha personality that everyone looked to for guidance. Now it’s time to find the next alpha personality in the department and make this person your advocate.
Why do you need to do this? While an individual may try to emulate you, your team won’t. We’re hardwired to put distance between ourselves and authority figures. You need that follower on your team whom others rally around to execute your plans for the department.
Remember the alpha isn’t always the group extrovert. Many introverts have a high level of emotional intelligence, drawing their peers to them like moths to a streetlight.
For many young professionals, creating career paths often leads to management positions. If you receive a promotion, you may now be supervising your former co-workers. By setting clear boundaries, you can make this transition easier for everyone.
One last piece of advice: Just because you’re leading the group doesn’t mean you can’t get into the trenches with your team when the workload is heavy. Your people need to see you lead, and they need to know you still care for and relate to them.