Now You Are Managing Your Peers!

peer management

Several of my clients have been asking me, “How do I shift my relationship from being a close colleague to being their manager? How must our relationship differ?”

Yes, there will certainly be differences in the relationship. 

Two of the most important factors in successfully making this shift are:

  1. Navigating your own emotional responses.
  2. Managing the psychological shifts between the two of you.

Let’s take a look at both of these areas:

Navigating your emotional responses

If you’re like most people, you will be delighted with your new appointment. After being chosen, and saying yes to a new and more senior role, you will have likely projected yourself into the role. You will have a vision of what you want to achieve and what might be possible.

You may have some feelings of loss with what (and who) you are leaving behind, or moving away from as you move into your new role. You will have a new boss, peers, responsibilities, and direct reports. You will also want to move quickly to develop good working relationships with them.

How do you look at your emotional responses to the peers you are now managing?

Here is one approach:

Consider what criteria your earlier peer relationship was built on:

  • A confidant for when things aren’t working out
  • A co-conspirator in problem-solving and sounding out strategy
  • A mutual sounding board for pending actions
  • Sharing a fun perspective on life
  • A friendly colleague-companion
  • Wise counsel for difficult situations

Most likely, the relationship will have been based on a mix of these criteria.

What might your new criteria for an effective relationship be?

Most likely, you will find wise counsel, confidantes, and friendly colleague-companions among your new peers. These are helpful relationships to have with peers to be an effective colleague, build shared agendas, and get to know one another’s group and personal drivers.

How does that change your relationship with your former peer?

You can still maintain a strong two-way relationship with your former peer. 

From the relationship you have built up, you might continue to be sounding boards with one another before you take your ideas to your new peers, or for them on how they are navigating with their team. You may want to continue to listen to their advice on how a pending course of action will land in the wider group. And they may want to hear from you what political or organisation drivers to be alert to. In this way, your relationship remains mutual and based on fresh criteria relevant to your new work roles.

Discussing together how you want to manage your relationship is helpful to you both re-establishing a strong positive connection. One client of mine, Jeff, was appointed to lead his peers. He let me know he was struggling to be assertive with them and ask for what he wanted. “How come?” I asked. 

“They are my friends, I want them to like me.” Jeff and I began to work with options, and what other criteria were now relevant for him to be an effective leader.

Here is another approach:

This approach is spatial, where distance is used as a measure of closeness, importance, or effectiveness of the relationship.

Assess how close you have been to this person on one (or several) of these criteria.

Now, reflect and assess the distance between you both now that you are their manager.

What do you notice?

The concept of distance as a measure of a relationship can help navigate the emotional and psychological shifts in a relationship. Have you moved away? Have they? Will you move towards them? 

With your new appointment, people you were previously ‘close’ to, may be more distant, mainly due to others becoming central and therefore closer. And yes, some things are best discussed.

Other factors to consider:

What else are you aware of as you consider the change in your relationship?

  • Might they be jealous or envious of your new appointment?
  • Might they wonder why you were appointed?
  • Have they also applied for the position and not been appointed?

In a strong peer relationship, one of you is likely to raise these matters and discuss them. These discussions are both awkward and crucial and assist in building a relevant new relationship in your new work roles with each other.

Yes, there may be losses as the relationship shifts, too. If this peer has been a close friend you have socialised with, this may no longer be appropriate. This change may mean discovering new areas for your interactions – ones that support your work and your vitality in life.

© Diana Jones

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