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So after several years of proving yourself, your company finally recognizes your potential as a future leader. The opportunity for promotion, however, comes with a risk. You have made a number of friends at work during the past few years and now you will have to manage them. I was recently reminded of this dilemma when working with a leader who had recently been promoted from an individual contributor as a lead programmer to a manager of a team of eight technicians. She was struggling with her transition from friend to manager since three of her employees were friends.

How can you make a transition from friend to manager and at the same time not loose your friends? Here are seven tips on making this transition a success:

  1. Once your promotion has been announced, schedule time with each of your friends at work and outline the future guidelines for your relationship with them. No longer will you be equals in the workplace. Define what will change in your relationship with them and what won't change.

    Some of the changes should include: no coffees, breaks, or lunches with work friends unless other team members are included. Potential disciplinary action if policies, procedures, or standards aren't adhered to at work. And, you will be asking for their feedback of you as a leader, not as a friend.

    Things that should remain the same will include: respect for each other and what you bring to the team, and caring about each other as an employee and a friend.

  2. Schedule a meeting with your new team and be transparent and honest about your friendships with co-workers.  Share with the team that your work friends understand their relationship with you at work has changed and that they will be treated just like the rest of the team members

  3. It will be important to demonstrate fairness and equality for all who report to you. All policies and procedures, as well as work standards, will be adhered to by all employees and the consequences for non conformity will be the same for all. Be careful with this and don't over compensate by interpreting the guidelines more strictly for your friends than for others on your team. This can lead to your friend quitting or asking for a transfer.

  4. There will be situations such as new policies and guidelines that will cause frustration for you in your new role. You should not share your frustrations with your employee friend. Your company has seen potential in you as a leader and leaders don’t gripe to employees about company policy or direction. Leaders do bring their concerns to their managers by communicating the potential implications changes could have for the company.

  5. Confidential company situations must stay confidential even if it impacts your friends at work. The ability to keep confidences is important in building trust and respect in an organization. How do you think team members will view you if you're breaking company confidences? It certainly won't make them feel comfortable in bringing their own confidential situations to you in fear that you will share them with others.

  6. Be careful about your behavior in social situations where other employees are observing your behavior. Remember you are no longer an equal but a role model. You are now a leader and having executive presence will be important to your success.

  7. Ask for feedback from your friends about your ability as a leader.  The questions you should ask them should be focused on your behaviors as a leader such as communications, fairness, motivation, praise and recognition, listening etc.

All these steps require great communication skills. Focus your efforts on honing your skills in the following areas: listening, questioning, and storytelling. All of these must be performed skillfully and in a timely manner for a leader to be successful especially when managing friends.


Larry Hart

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