Tips for new managers: How to manage former peers

Few things in the professional world are as exciting as being promoted to a managerial position. Advancing to a more senior role usually involves receiving a salary increase, acquiring more decision-making power and gaining recognition. It’s really the highest form of praise for a job well done.

For employees who’ve always been individual contributors, becoming a manager is both exhilarating and a bit nerve-wracking. You want to be a good leader and hit organizational goals. But you also want to make sure you’re being respectful of the team members who were just recently your peers.

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to ensure a smooth transition. Dr. Kammy Haynes, organizational leadership expert and instructor at University of Massachusetts Global, says that mastering some essential skills can help you swiftly become an effective team leader. But before getting into these critical competencies, it’s important to first acknowledge that there can be some bumps along the transition from peer to manager.

Recognizing the challenges new managers need to overcome

In all likelihood, you were promoted to management for your ability to meet high standards as an individual. Understandably, moving into a position where you’re now completing operational tasks while also overseeing others can feel overwhelming. In fact, a Robert Half survey reveals balancing these competing responsibilities is the biggest difficulty new supervisor’s face.

“This is especially stressful when you’re a new manager, because you’re trying to make the person who promoted you proud and you also probably don’t have a lot of practice overseeing people,” Dr. Haynes explains.

When it comes to juggling managerial duties with personal work responsibilities,  business leaders often say developing and empowering your team is essential. But as any seasoned manager will tell you, this takes time.

Other common struggles new managers find themselves navigating, according to the Robert Half survey, include supervising friends or former peers, motivating the team, prioritizing projects and meeting higher performance expectations. But while adapting to the demands of this new role can feel daunting, you have the power to do it.

“It comes down to recognizing that you’re in a partnership with your team,” Dr. Haynes says. “You can’t do everything alone and they can’t do everything alone, so the more you collaborate and support one another, the better it’s going to be for everyone.”

As you adjust to your new role, keep in mind that there’s no one right way to lead. Effective management depends both on what your team members respond to and your own personal leadership style. It may take some trial and error, but you’ll find out which methods work best for you and those you oversee.

“Recognize that you’re going to make mistakes,” Dr. Haynes advises. “But just turn every mistake into a lesson learned so you can do better next time.”

5 tips to help new managers successfully supervise former peers

In a recent webinar, Dr. Haynes provided some suggestions for new managers that focus on the specific abilities you’ll want to work on developing. While managers leverage other competencies as well, it’s a good idea to focus on these first. 

“These are really what you need to get the ball rolling and establish a foundation,” Dr. Haynes offers. “Then, you can start developing some additional skills that make your life easier and also allow you to provide even more support for your employees.”

1. Communicate effectively

Nearly every professional who oversees other team members will tell you that good communication capabilities are critical to doing their jobs well. In fact, an analysis of more than 3.4 million job postings from the last year reveals that communication skills are the most sought-after competency employers are looking for in managers. *

According to Dr. Haynes, good communication is:

  • Proactive — Involves reaching out to employees instead of always waiting for them to come to you.
  • Personalized — Makes use of various communication channels and tailors the message to the person.
  • Transparent — Entails sharing as much information with employees as possible to keep them in the loop.
  • Two-way — Makes sure there’s a dialogue and that both parties are listening and sharing input.

These concepts become even more important for those who are telecommuting. “When everyone is in an office, you can have informal communications in the hallway or lunchroom,” Dr. Haynes explains. “But it has to be more intentional in a remote setting. You need to set aside time each day to reach out to some portion of your team members.”

2. Show appreciation

Everyone wants to feel appreciated for a job well done. It’s incredibly motivating to receive genuine recognition for an achievement, be it big or small. Research has actually shown that employees are more productive when their managers share expressions of gratitude.

But as with communication, demonstrated appreciation must be personalized. Some people prefer recognition that’s relatively private while others enjoy a more public announcement.

“You need to have conversations and ask people what they prefer,” Dr. Haynes suggestions. “Ask them how they’d like to be recognized or rewarded. The results might surprise you and be easier than you expected.”

3. Build and retain trust

Trust is the foundation of every personal and professional relationship, so managers need to work hard to establish that base. Dr. Haynes says you can do this by showing respect for your team members’ opinions, ideas and time. That last element is particularly important, especially for planned phone conversations.

“Be organized when you start a call,” Dr. Haynes urges. “Make sure you have an agenda. If you’ve addressed all the issues and answered all the questions after 10 minutes, end the call. Let your team get back to work — and you can do the same.”

Also keep in mind that sometimes new managers need to focus on rebuilding trust with employees who were previously their professional equivalents. Your relationships with former peers will undoubtedly change, so make sure you show everyone the respect they deserve and discuss how you can best work together.

4. Delegate appropriately

New managers often find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. They’re typically promoted for their individual contributions, but are now responsible for overseeing the work of others. That can be a difficult adjustment for someone who’s used to rolling up their sleeves and accomplishing individual goals. It’s no wonder that delegation is one of the top five skills managers struggle with.

Determining what your role is and how it differs from your former peers is essential. You might find it helpful to think about the Three-Skill Approach developed by researcher Robert Katz, which suggests that effective leadership hinges on technical skill, human skill and conceptual skill. While you probably have a lot of technical skill, you’ll likely need to work on developing the other two to see the value in delegating.

Once you have a better sense of where you fit into the overall equation, you can begin to think about delegating as an opportunity to benefit you, your team and the larger organization. Dr. Haynes illustrates this using the example of a task that would normally take you an hour each day.

“Assuming 50 weeks for your working year, that adds up to 250 hours,” Dr. Haynes offers. “Even if you need to spend 10 hours training someone else to do it, you’ve just gained 240 hours for the year. Imagine what you could accomplish with that extra 30 days’ worth of time.”

5. Coach to drive performance

As a manager, you’re now responsible for evaluating team members and providing feedback. It can take some getting used to, but you might find it helpful to remember that there are really three types of coaching meetings: ones intended to improve performance, ones intended to maintain performance and ones designed to develop promising talent. The second type of coaching session is easy to forget, but Dr. Haynes says those meetings are just as important as the others.

“Not only is it an opportunity to recognize and appreciate their work, it’s also a chance to broach the subject of career development,” Dr. Haynes says. “Perhaps by asking them about their interests and aspirations, you plant a seed for further growth and development.”

Keep progressing in your career

Going from peer to supervisor is a big change, but it can be an incredibly positive experience. You just need the right approach. By making use of these tips for new managers, you can help ensure a smooth transition for your entire team. 

Once you’ve gotten used to helping team members achieve their potential, you may want to continue your own professional development journey. One of the best ways to gain additional knowledge and skills that can help you advance is to complete a certificate. Short-term options like University of Massachusetts Global’s New Manager Certificate can be a good choice for some, but others find that obtaining a degree is a better fit for their professional goals.

If you’re interested in enhancing your promotion opportunities and advancing your management potential, you could benefit from a graduate program that allows you to explore leadership styles and focus on areas that are particularly relevant to your career. Learn more by checking out UMass Global’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership.


* (analysis of 3,437,205 managerial job postings, October 01, 2019 September 30, 2020).

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