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Becoming the boss

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

When we get promotion at work, life becomes more stimulating, challenging and complicated. One of the key aspects of our new role is how to handle the vital relationships with the people who were our peers and team mates. This difficult change can be managed successfully with some thought about the transition. Here are some points to work on:

1. Establish a balance between authority and familiarity

Suddenly your relationship with your peers has changed. The best way to handle the change is to strike a balance between being light handed and heavy handed – between being authoritarian and friendly.

Don’t jump into authoritarian mode, even if some of your former peers now test you by being over-friendly in your new role. Leaders can’t be friends with their staff. Make the transition to distance yourself gradually and carefully. Use a ‘consult and decide’ approach with decision making so that you are still perceived as approachable, but so staff realize the buck stops with you. Listen, decide and communicate.

2. Focus on achieving goals

Focus hard on the team achieving workplace goals. Keep your friendships at arms’ length now. Overcome past friendships and distance yourself to the extent you think is necessary to get the team’s tasks completed well. It can be a lonelier role, but you can’t have it both ways by keeping your friendships as they were and also expecting those friends to do as you want. It creates a conflict of interest that you have to avoid to be successful.

3. Delegate

Being a leader means you have to let go of some or all of the things you used to personally handle. Otherwise you become a micromanager who causes bottlenecks. But you can still expect whoever has taken over your previous hands-on role to provide progress reports. The extent of letting go depends on the number of employees who you are now responsible for.

4. Communicate

Moving up gives you a broader view of the organization and its direction. Therefore you need to ensure you share your broader perspective with your direct reports. Leadership is communication. Be open with staff, be accessible and let them know that you don’t want to have information filtered before it reaches you, and that you won’t ‘shoot the messenger’ when you receive bad news.

When staff bring problems to you, ask them to offer options for solutions, but remember the decision is yours – don’t expect them to have the solution. That’s now your job – in consultation with them.

Now you are removed from the direct communication avenues you may have had previously, you need to establish new sources of information. Create lines of communication with key stakeholder groups such as customers, frontline staff and suppliers. These people can quickly fill you in on the strengths and weaknesses in the business processes relevant to you.

5. Renew relationships with key employees

Promotion instantly distances you from former peers. Take care to look after good employees who are now under you instead of beside you. Recognize them for work well done. Some of your former colleagues (especially those who may have applied for your new job if it was advertised internally) may well be going through a classic process of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in their relationship with you. You will need to use your judgment about when to engage with disappointed direct reports, especially those who think their career has come to a stop. Discreetly help them work through these issues.

6. Ethics

One of the tests of a newly promoted manager is the application of workplace ethics. You may well have previously been aware, along with other staff in your area, of certain behaviors that are not acceptable. Responsibility for addressing them may have lain with someone else previously, but an important early test of your caliber will be the way you handle these and new ethical issues. If you squib on dealing with these issues, you will lose a lot of respect from employees. Therefore, even if the culprits are former friends, you need to grasp the nettle and deal firmly with workplace ethics problems.

7. Advice and counsel network

Leaders always need people who can provide sound counsel. As you ascend the ranks you will need different people to advise you who are knowledgeable about the matters applicable to your new level in the organization.

8. Internal politics

The higher up the organization, the greater the extent of politics. This is a universal fact and must be accepted – you must play the game to cultivate people who are important to you. If you don’t, you will suffer the penalty of career roadblocks. There is no way to dodge this reality, so go with the flow. Sit down and review who are your key personal stakeholders and develop a discreet personal stakeholder relations program with those people. Decide what you can offer them and what you need from them. Generally you can provide information, because communicators deal in information, and information is one form of power. You can determine what each stakeholder can provide in return, such as sound mentoring advice, support at meetings, cooperation on projects, etc. In turn, you also need to decide who are your best direct reports and how best to offer them political support.

If you take care with these 8 points you are likely to be a successful boss.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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