You’re the Boss Now. Here’s How to Deal

Reuters

All those years of climbing the corporate ladder have finally paid off: you’re the boss now.But being the head honcho isn’t easy — just look at Michael Scott, the needy boss in hit TV show "The Office," whose bumbling handling of being a leader and a buddy brings no shortage of corporate hijinks.

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Enter Kevin Eikenberry, the cheekily titled “chief potential officer” of his own consulting firm and author of “From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership”.

“If you’re a new leader, often times people say it’s no big deal and they don’t want to talk about it. But I can’t stress enough that having a conversation about it is going to stop it from becoming a much bigger problem,” Eikenberry says.

Reuters talked with Eikenberry about being a leader, the difference between being friends and being friendly, and why you need to have “the talk” with your former coworkers.

Tell me why you wrote this book — has this ever happened to you?

I grew up in a family business, so I had the opportunity to have that happen to me — I was not only the “pal” and then the boss, but also the youngest and then the boss.

The reality is that we know this is happening to people all the time — people are being promoted and they’re moving from being the best salesman to being the sales manager, they’re moving from being the best staff accountant to being in charge of their former peers.

What’s so hard about becoming a boss?

The challenge is three-fold: there’s the transition of the relationships, which are going to shift and change. There’s the transition of moving into this complex thing called leadership from a spot where you’ve never done it before. And every time you need to go learn a new set of skills-- especially something as complex as leadership--that’s going to be hard enough. But when you add in the fact that you’re now doing that with people who used to be your pal, it’s tough. They were your pal and now you’re doing their performance review. You used to have a beer together and now you have to give them corrective feedback.

And the third challenge is that as you move into a leadership role, your perspective really does change and you have to be able to see it that way. So any of these challenges is difficult — put them all together and it’s really tough.

Getting promoted should be good news, but for some people it’s not. Why is that?

Some people feel trapped because they love the job they have and they really don’t want to be a leader, a manager, a supervisor, a boss. Some people feel trapped because they feel it’s the only way they can get more money or they feel like that’s what they’re “supposed to” do. In some organizations people just assume you would want to be promoted so it just sort of happens. The biggest challenge is when you didn’t really want it or aspire to it. Or you said you wanted it and a part of you didn’t. Or if you wanted the job, but so did two or three of your peers. So there could be a lot of issues that cause strain and worry and anxiety.

Tell me about a scenario you’ve had personally in which being a boss was difficult.

I can think of a number of situations, and when it becomes uncomfortable it almost always comes down to either miscommunication or a lack of communication. Related to those two things is expectations — so the expectations aren’t clear, either in the work or in the relationship.The way you solve that discomfort is you bring it up, talk about the issues and challenges and concerns you have, and get clear about expectations. Sometimes people have a chip on their shoulder. They think you’re the boss and now you’ll have all the answers. If that’s now where you’re coming from, then you need to get that clear with the other person.

It all comes down to communicating boundaries to either reduce discomfort or keep that discomfort from happening at all.

What are some tips you can give someone who’s suddenly a leader?

As soon as you get the position, there are four or five people you need to have conversations with: your friends — talk about boundaries and expectations and get that cleared up; the whole team you now lead, so you can build expectations and comfort there; your new boss, to find out how you’ll work together. And the last group is your new peer group — the other supervisors. Often times, it’s that group that doesn’t know how to take you, or they may not accept you. This may be a very valuable group of people for you, not only to become an effective part of the team, but they could become mentors and help you navigate the difficult waters of the new job.Lastly, if you’re in an organization in which your former boss is now one of your peers — that’s a relationship you want clarity on. I’ve certainly heard of people whose former bosses seemed to keep thinking of them as a team member.

Is it possible to be friends and the boss?

I think it’s possible. You have to have a clear conversation…you have to say, “Hey, I know we’re friends but now I’m also your boss and sometimes I’ll have the ‘boss’ hat on and sometimes I’ll have the ‘friend’ hat on. And you have to recognize there are probably some things that I won’t be able to talk about. And that’s okay. And let’s think about the value of having a close relationship. If I know your goals, I’m in a position now to help you reach them.”

New leaders sometimes think is that they need to be friends with ALL their team. I think it’s much better to be friendly than to try to make friends. It’s very much the same set of skills, but a different end goal. Certainly, you want to build relationships with people and build trust — but that doesn’t mean you have to be Facebook friends.

What do you think?

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