Strategies to manage former peers when new to leadership

Managing former peers as a newly appointed leader is a common dilemma and not surprisingly it can often prevent leaders from fully stepping into their role. There are many challenges for leaders who find themselves in this situation, such as balancing the need to exert their authority whilst at the same time maintaining levels of rapport already developed. Conflict situations can often arise with peers who were also unsuccessful candidates for the role; if this is overt and not managed at an early stage it may damage the leaders reputation relating to their ability to manage others effectively.

This is a regular issue for some of my clients and regularly arises with those who are Leaders in the healthcare profession. I recently coached a client who found herself finishing on a Friday as a colleague and commencing on the following Monday as the leader of the service. Her operational competence was exceptional and she felt without question amongst her former colleagues, however unfortunately (due to the ongoing pressures of the pandemic) she was unable to avail of leadership development in advance of taking up her role. Reviewing her approach she felt the following contributed to her challenges:

  • Continuing some of the operational tasks she carried out in her previous role leaving a backlog of work from her new role.
  • Maintaining  “too-close friendships” which she felt prevented her from effective management as there were perceptions of favoritism amongst other members of the team and also impeded her attempt to take necessary corrective actions where underperformance/behavioural issues arose.
  • Over relying on the “steady performers” to help out during busy periods rather than take time to ensure those who were slower at performing tasks were supported to enhance their performance. This lead to resentment from some team members who felt there was an unfair workload.

If these are some challenges you are finding yourself in bear in mind that there's no magic formula for success and the individual dynamics, history and culture of a service will always need to considered in devising strategies to overcome such dilemmas. However here are  some general guidelines to keep in mind when managing former peers:

For those team members who were also candidates for your role; approach the situation with sensitivity and draw on your developed interpersonal skills to try to respectfully maintain positive relationships as you become more comfortable with having managerial control.

Build credibility from the outset; as a leader all eyes will now be on how you manage situations and ensuring you present as a leader who is respectful, considers all viewpoints but ultimately makes decisions fairly and thoughtfully will help your credibility and to establish boundaries.

Fairness builds trust;  Knowing that prior friendships and relationships can lead to an emotional minefield if not managed well when the power dynamics change in the workplace, it’s crucial that you are perceived as scrupulously fair to all. This will also build your credibility and show have “taken up” your role.

Stepping back from operational tasks and into your role as leader; If you find you are still getting involved in operational tasks (outside of crisis times when it may be essential for you to roll up your sleeves) which are impacting time available for your leadership role; start to draw back from this over time. It can also be useful to meet each individual (or full team) when possible for to check in on how they are finding their role and to be clear about the remits of yours

Build the competence of the underperformers; over relying on the steady hands will as mentioned earlier will raise resentment over time if time isn’t taken to review the root cause of the underperformers and support their development.

Developing the confidence and competence to develop workplace relationships can take time and much practice and patience. However taking the time out to understand what you can do to create environments where your people can engage, perform and flourish will bring long lasting benefits to you, your people and the organisations.

Book a complimentary 30 minute call to discuss your current challenges in developing workplace relationships and explore strategies that will help you become a competent and confident people leader.