One of the toughest transitions as a first time manager is moving from being your co-workers’ buddy to their boss. That can make for an uneasy time as both managers and team members redraw those relationships: Will they respect me? Can I still be their friend? So, in these testing times, how do you stake out new boundaries, reconfigure your work relationships and motivate your colleagues without turning old friends into foes?
You are a manager now, and you have to reset how you relate to and communicate with your colleagues. Nervousness about your new role can lead to you insisting ‘nothing will change’ or keeping an informal, even humour-driven, style of management. This is a mistake. New managers can often fall into the trap of what the Blake-Mouton management grid labels the ‘country club’ style of management. First time managers often prioritise people, harmony and likeability, creating a relaxed and fun atmosphere, but this over-accommodating management type can lead to a drop in standards and a fall in productivity.
Relationships are built on ongoing conversations. Keep in touch with your team regularly and offer coaching and mentoring support to keep their performance on track. Avoid oversharing with the team members you’re friendly with and treat everyone the same – be respectful, credible and impartial. Stronger together You’re not alone. Harvard Business Review research (Laker et al, 2020) showed that 90% of first time managers found navigating the boundaries between being a boss and a friend tough, and more than 70% had seen friendships wither since becoming a manager. Once your new direction is clear in your mind, assemble your team and agree those goals together. Iron out any problems early. Be inclusive but be prepared to set challenging goals. Next, find out what team members will need to achieve those goals and give them your full support.
Making the move from buddy to boss doesn’t mean turning into a stony-faced and distant authoritarian. But it does mean a redrawing of boundaries, a re-emphasis on business goals and using your new-found responsibility to empower your team to lead satisfying and productive working lives.
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