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How to manage the peer-to-boss transition

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  “After a recent promotion, I have two former peers reporting to me. Supervising them has been very challenging. “Terry” frequently comes into my office to gossip, and “Ellen” refuses to recognize me as her boss. She butts in when I’m giving instructions to Terry and acts like she’s the supervisor. If I constantly remind them that I am now the manager, I’ll look like I’m full of myself. How do I handle this?”  Uncertain

Marie’s Answer:  The peer-to-boss transition is always tough, but you can take comfort in the fact that many people have made it successfully. Here are some steps that may help:

•    Meet with Ellen and Terry to openly discuss the change. Acknowledge that moving out of familiar roles is difficult and ask what they have found challenging about this transition.  

•    Explain that your primary goal is to be an effective manager. Ask what traits they feel are important in a supervisor, then describe your own views. This will help to establish you in the manager role without any heavy-handed proclamations.

•    Use the authority of your position in a mature, professional manner to end the disruptive behaviors. This is an absolutely critical skill that some managers never master.  

•    For example, when chatty Terry launches into a gossip session, politely stop her and explain that you have a lot of work to do. If aggressive Ellen attempts to hijack your instructions, just smile and say "Ellen, I’m not quite finished with what I was saying."  Then continue talking.  They will quickly get the message.

New supervisors almost always suffer from “imposter syndrome” at first, but before too long your management role should feel much more comfortable.  

For additional suggestions on adjusting to your first management job, see Twelve Tips for New Managers.

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