What to Do When You're Promoted -- and Put in Charge of Your Former Peers

Getting promoted at work is a milestone many of us hope to achieve. But what happens when that suddenly changes the dynamic between you and your colleagues?

It's a scenario that happens fairly often. One day, you and your coworkers are all on the same level, and the next day, you're suddenly in a position where you're going from their friend and confidant to their manager. It can be an uncomfortable situation at best, so here's how to handle the transition.

1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room

Being put in a position where you're suddenly managing your former peers can be uncomfortable for everyone involved -- so don't pretend it isn't. If you start acting like a manager without first acknowledging the awkwardness at hand, you may come across as insincere. Instead, admit that you're still adjusting to the change yourself, and ask for suggestions on how to make it smoother for everyone.

2. Set boundaries

Having colleagues to confide in and gripe with at the office can make your workdays much more bearable. But once you become those folks' manager, you can no longer divulge your displeasure and commiserate on the same level. As a boss, you're responsible for not only managing your team members, but motivating them, too, so keep your personal complaining to a minimum.

Furthermore, while it's still OK for you to join those colleagues for lunch or happy hour, you'll need to be a little more guarded with those interactions, and set boundaries so that nobody ends up crossing a line. Here's an example: Say you and your colleagues would occasionally take turns playing hooky from work to attend concerts. If one of them is planning that, make it clear that you don't want to know about it (and avoid sharing similar information if you're the one who's pushing the rules). Figure out how to establish a comfortable level of information-sharing and interaction so that nobody is put in a bad position down the line.

3. Put your personal feelings aside

As a manager, you may be responsible for tasks like assigning project leaders and giving out raises. And while you probably know, on a logical level, that those decisions should be based on merit alone, it can be difficult not to favor the people with whom you've established closer friendships. That's why if you come to manage your former peers, you'll need to work hard to put your personal feelings on the back burner, and instead focus on the facts.

Will some folks get offended if passed over for key opportunities? Maybe. But if you send the message that you're approaching your new role fairly, you're more likely to gain their respect.

4. Accept that your former peers may no longer want to be your friends

In an ideal world, you'd be able to transition from colleague to manager with disrupting the social flow of weekend barbecues and trips to the lake. But the moment you accept that promotion, you'll need to also accept the possibility that your coworkers may come to no longer view you as a friend. After all, you're going to be the one in charge of their workload. It'll be on you to decide whether they can take time off, leave early, or push back deadlines. And while there's no reason you can't maintain a casual relationship with the same people you used to spend your free time with, you should also understand that being in a position of power hardly makes for smooth friendships -- like it or not.

Going from colleague to boss can be challenging for everyone involved. Be mindful of that fact, and be patient as you all work on getting used to your new circumstances. With any luck, it'll be a career move that serves you well while allowing you to maintain a good, albeit different, relationship with the people who used to be your peers.

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