Why leading former colleagues is so hard

Relationships change, whether you like it or not …

Congratulations! You are promoted from team member to team leader. But, this may not be as easy as you might think … In many leadership careers this is one of the hardest things to do and one of the biggest barriers to overcome. Relationships change more than we sometimes realise. 5 tips.

Online platform Viva Magazine:
Miss Q: ‘Hello lovely ladies, I hope you can help me! I will be promoted in a few weeks and I will be leading my former colleagues. Does anyone have experience in this? I hope you have some tips for me. I realise this can be quite tricky …
Miss A: “I once found myself in this situation. My colleagues ignored me when I wished them good morning. No one would ever offer me a coffee. My birthday treats were declined. And all the changes I wanted to introduce in my team were rejected. I gave up after a year. My promotion was not worth all the stress and sleepless nights.”
Miss B: “Yes, I experienced colleagues being promoted to managers a few times. And it did not always work out ... You have to deal differently with your colleagues. That leads to tension. I know, very negative, but I still wish you all the luck!”

‘It won’t work, but good luck anyway!’

Oh dear, miss B makes it very clear. And to be honest, miss B’s concerns are legitimate. Becoming a leader of former colleagues can be very difficult, for different reasons. People you used to work with now have to take assignments from you for example. And sometimes people are disappointed because they might have hoped for a promotion themselves.

60 percent of new leaders fail in the first 24 months …

For most leaders being promoted from team member to team leader is their baptism of fire in leadership, but unfortunately not always with success. According to American research, 60 percent of new leaders fail in the first 24 months. Many organisations work in project teams these days. Therefore it often happens that a team member gets promoted into a leadership role and becomes the leader of his former team members.

Your sense of safety might be in danger

We are afraid to be left out

Part of the problem is a certain psychological ‘hurdle’ new leaders face in their new role. According to David Rock, cofounder of the Neuroleadership Institute, ‘relatedness’ – or wanting to be part of a group – is one of our main drivers. Are we afraid to be left out? Then we feel anxious. If you become team manager, you might feel you are no longer part of the group. You feel left out. Your sense of safety might be in danger.

Stress hormones are released
Every time your team is chatting and sharing and laughing without you involved stress hormones are released. Robert Sutton, professor at Stanford University and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: “When you become a manager, relationships change. Whether you like it or not.”

Leaders should be self-confident and competent

Mutual expectations change as well. If you become leader of your former colleagues, people judge you differently. Studies show that we judge leaders differently than non-leaders. Researchers believe this is a result of a certain image we have about leaders: they should be self-confident and competent. New leaders are expected to live up to that image.

Giving leadership to former colleagues: 5 tips
It is not always easy! These 5 tips help.

1. Be open, be forward

You cannot deny it: the new relationship can be awkward. Pretending nothing is wrong won’t do you much good. New leaders sometimes show a lot of confidence, pretending everything is under control. But that will only push people away. Are you brave enough to show that you struggle with this new situation? That gives people room to show their emotions. This means you can get used to the new situation together. You also show people that you take their opinion serious. Different studies show that teams function better when people feel their voice is heard.

Are you brave enough to show your struggles?

2. Show confidence

Until just a few weeks ago you were one of the team members. That has advantages as well. You know your colleagues well and you know what they are capable off. By delegating appropriate tasks, you show your trust in them. When people feel responsible for their own work, they become more involved. A study by Deloitte showed that the most productive teams consisted of team members who said they did work they were good at. They also scored higher at customer satisfaction.

3. Lead by example

The example you give, defines the mood and work ethic. Former colleagues, who are frustrated because they think they should have gotten the promotion, accept your promotion more easily when they see and feel how hard you work for it. Research shows that a positive attitude results in not just more positive team members but also more effective team members.

4. Be tough

Being someone’s boss ánd friend? Unfortunately that is not always easy. You have to make sure you always put the team’s interest first. Sometimes former colleagues cannot get over your promotion. No matter how many times you discuss this with them. That means you might have to make a tough decision and let that person go. You are now the only one who is responsible for the team’s result. This is a big consequence of your new role. Like Jim Collins points out in his classic read Good to Great, leaders who take the step from good to great “first get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus).”

Relax. This gives you more self-confidence.

5. Relax

Try to be relaxed during all the changes happening. There is a reason you are the leader: higher management obviously trusts you in this role. If you manage to relax, you have more self-confidence. And people are more inclined to follow someone with a lot of self-confidence.

Source: mt.nl. This article is part of the dossier New Leadership (Nieuw Leiderschap) on MT.nl. This dossier is owned by de Baak.

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