New Manager Coaching Dilemma: How To Manage Your Former Peers

New Manager Coaching Dilemma: How To Manage Your Former Peers

When people are elevated into management roles from within, it often results in them overseeing former peers and taking on bigger responsibilities. In this blog, we explore strategies to navigate this transition successfully.

The first rule of thumb is that once you become a supervisor, staff will view you differently. Trying to maintain the same relationship you had with former peers isn’t going to be effective – it will be uncomfortable both for you and for them. Instead, you need to figure out a new basis for the relationship. Here are some things to consider:

  • Make a commitment to yourself to treat all staff you supervise fairly. Supervisors cannot have “favorites.” The perception of inequality and unfairness will harm morale, and staff may question your decisions.
  • Avoid the tendency to over identify with previous peers and excessively nurture, but not guide and direct them.
  • Be open in conversations with friends that you now supervise. Discuss the changing roles and possible areas of tension that could develop.
  • Be prepared for some friendships to cool. That’s natural.

Here are some additional tips for managing your transition to a new management role.

Signal the transition
In most companies, it’s someone else’s responsibility to announce your promotion. But not all organizations do this, which means the task may fall to you. It’s important to make everyone aware of the transition. Talk to your current boss or with HR about how to communicate it.

Engage the team
Demonstrating you’re in charge doesn’t mean making a show of your newfound authority. Instead take actions that establish your credibility and indicate how you’ll work as a boss. One of the best ways is to meet with your team, as a group and individually, to talk about your vision and theirs. In these meetings do as much listening as talking. Ask: “What do you see as the most important priorities? What things should we stop doing or do less of? What can I do to help you be more successful?” These questions show that you’re in charge, but also convey that you’re there to listen and support your team.

Tread lightly at first
You probably have many ideas about how to lead the team. But don’t introduce any major overhauls right away. You need to demonstrate your new authority without stepping on toes or damaging relationships. Identify a few decisions you can make fairly quickly, for example, a new schedule for team and individual meetings or new expectations for team communication. Defer the bigger decisions until you’ve had time to gather input.

Deal with the disappointed competitor
If one of your peers was in competition for the job you got, it’s important to invest in building the lines of communication. Let her/him know that you value them and that you plan to advocate for their development. You can say something like, “I understand you’re disappointed. You’re an important part of this team, and I’m going to make sure you have what you need to succeed.” In some cases, they may time to adjust to the new situation. Be empathetic to their situation.

As new managers make the transition to a higher role in the organization, here are four things to keep in mind: 

1. Performance: Do you understand the current performance of your team or organization? Are there key results or KPIs that are being monitored?

  • Action: Align the team around desired outcomes and the key priorities or drivers to get there. Maintain a plan and monitor it regularly with your team.

2. Culture: Do you have a grasp of the team’s culture or organization’s culture and how it affects morale and performance?

  • Action: Make sure you communicate regularly with people about the culture – both what you appreciate about it and what you want to improve. If there are improvements to make, take ownership of it and figure out a strategy and a plan for change.

3. Decision making: Are you clear on your role, the roles of the people you supervise? Are you clear about decision-making, including the things only you should be doing and what should be delegated?

  • Action: Identify what’s needed to improve the functioning of the team and clarify responsibilities as needed.

4. Customer and stakeholders: Do you know who they are and their expectations? Do you have clarity about what changes are needed to better meet their needs?

  • Action: Establish regular communication forums and channels so that people on your team understand changing customer preferences and changing stakeholder needs. Based on those discussions, establish relevant action plans.

Simultaneously managing these four areas isn’t easy. One of the keys is to clear about priorities – and to recognize that some things may need to stop so that other things can be put on the front burner. As one executive puts it: “Be clear on what you won’t do—what needs to stop. Most human beings and most companies don’t like to make choices, and they particularly don’t like to make a few choices they really have to live with.”

Other factors to consider for new managers moving into new roles:

Normalization of remote work. As both employees and managers work more remotely, managers will have dramatically less visibility into the realities of their employees’ day-to-day work and need to focus more on their outputs – less on the processes used to produce them. This requires greater clarity of expectations, since opportunities for on-the-fly adjustments will be few and far between.

Employees’ changing expectations. As organizations expanded the support they offer to their employees in areas like mental health and child care during the pandemic, the relationships between employees and their managers started to shift to be more emotional and supportive. Knowledge workers now expect their managers to be part of their support system to help them improve their life experience, rather than just their employee experience.

Trust based, empathetic leadership
Empathy is a common term in the philosophy of good leadership, but for many leaders it has yet to be a top management priority. The empathic manager is someone who can contextualize performance and behavior — who transcends simply understanding the facts of work and proactively asks questions and seeks information to place themselves in their direct reports’ shoes. Effective leaders and managers understand that they ask questions that produce vulnerable answers without compromising trust, diagnose the root cause of an employee’s behavior without making assumptions, and demonstrate the emotional intelligence necessary to imagine another’s feelings – and truly empathize with them.

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Eric Douglas

Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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