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Awkward? When a Peer Becomes Your Direct Report

Congratulations! You’ve just been promoted to a leadership position. The thrill of the new title and responsibilities is exhilarating. But wait, there’s a catch: you now have to manage people who were once your peers. Especially those peers - the ones who may know more about you then you would ever want a direct report to know! Navigating this potentially awkward transition requires a fine balance of tact, emotional intelligence, and leadership acumen. So how do you take on this new role without making it awkward for everyone? Here’s a guide to help you make a seamless transition.

Clear the Air

First things first, address the elephant in the room. Gather your team and openly acknowledge the change in roles. This initial conversation sets the tone for your new relationship with your former peers. It’s an opportunity for you to explain your vision and lay the groundwork for what lies ahead.

Set Boundaries

You may have to recalibrate personal relationships with your team. While you don’t need to sever friendships, it’s important to establish new boundaries. Limit personal conversations during work hours and steer away from discussing work-related issues during social interactions. This helps maintain professionalism without entirely sacrificing camaraderie.

Cultivate Empathy

Now that you’re the boss, your decisions have greater repercussions for your team. Show empathy when implementing new policies or setting performance expectations. Make it a point to consider how your actions will impact your direct reports.

Lead By Example

Your team will look to you for cues on how to behave in the newly restructured environment. Therefore, it’s imperative to lead by example. Be diligent, act ethically, and be the first to embrace new protocols or performance metrics. This will not only set a standard but also build credibility.

Foster Open Communication

In a setting where roles have shifted, clear and transparent communication is vital. Establish regular check-ins and foster an open-door policy. Provide a safe space for your team to express their concerns or suggestions. An environment of open dialogue can help dispel any lingering awkwardness and facilitate a smooth transition.

Be Consistent

Being consistent in your actions and decisions is crucial for maintaining trust. Favoritism or inconsistent treatment can lead to discord and a lack of respect for your authority. Make sure to apply rules and policies uniformly to show that you are a fair and impartial leader.

Manage Expectations

As a new leader, it’s important to manage expectations, both yours and your team's. Clearly communicate what you expect from your team and what they can expect from you. Aligning expectations can avoid misunderstandings and set a clear path for progress.

Seek Feedback

Last but not least, don't assume you've got it all figured out just because you've stepped into a leadership role. Make it a habit to seek feedback from your team, and more importantly, act upon it. This shows that you value their opinions and are committed to improving, thereby fostering a mutually respectful relationship.

Stepping into a leadership role and managing former peers is undoubtedly a challenging shift. However, with open communication, empathy, and consistency, you can build a strong foundation for your new role. Remember, effective leadership isn't about flexing your authoritative muscles; it's about empowering your team to achieve shared goals.

Dr. Merrylue Martin is President and CEO of the Job Joy Group and best-selling author of the Big Quit Survival Guide. To learn more, visit and connect on LinkedIn.


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