September 12, 2017
Managing Your Former Peers (AKA How to Gracefully Maneuver Sticky Situations and Potential Landmines)


You’ve finally landed that promotion you worked so hard to get. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor: working on higher impact projects, the opportunity to lead your own team, and the satisfaction of peer recognition that accompanies this shift.

Oh, wait. Your peers. You have a few former peers that will be on your team. This could get awkward.

The transition from peer to management isn’t always an easy one. After all, many of your peers may have applied for the job that you just got.

There’s also the question of what kind of peer were you?

Were you the peer who was a shoe-in for the promotion because you’ve been acting like a leader the entire time, so no one is surprised or outraged by the actual event?


Were you the type of peer who was found gossiping about office drama and complaining about the end of quarter late nights to finish a project?

Whichever scenario fits, the key to maneuvering this transition with grace is found in self-awareness. Know what kind of peer you were and address any issues there may be authentically and head on. Be clear on what your new role is (as a leader, that role is to develop other people) and make sure your team knows you have their back - regardless of previous dramas.

You can establish authority and credibility without acting like the promotion has gone to your head. Here are some tips for making the transition smoother for yourself and your former peers you now find yourself leading:

Be Gentle

You may have a ton of great ideas about how you want to lead the team, but don’t start implementing anything on day one. Take some time and observe with fresh eyes - ask questions. What do your reports see as gaps or opportunities? Want a more structured approach? Sit down with each person on your team and conduct a Start/Stop/Continue - if they had the resources and authority what would they start doing, stop doing or change. This is a great tool to gain some understanding. It’s important to listen with an open mind - in fact, don’t respond right away. Gather the information and then look for trends and themes to test some of your ideas before you start making changes.  

This enables you to gain some buy-in, open your purview, and act intentionally with purpose.   

Establish Your Authority

You can demonstrate you’re in charge without making a show of your newfound authority.

Stay focused on ways you can show your former peers how you’ll work as a boss. Meet with your team, both as a group and individually, to talk about your vision. This is also the perfect time to get to know your peers all over again, this time as a leader.

Spend some one-on-one time with each of them and ask a few questions that will help establish your authority:

  • How do they want to be led?

  • How do they want to receive feedback?

  • What are their career aspirations?

  • What do they love about their job?

  • What do they hate about their job?

Articulate how you see the team working and who you want to be as a leader, and then be sure this is the way you show up for work each day.  

Distance Yourself

Some may hate this, but the sad truth is, you can’t continue to have the same kind of relationships with your peers you once did. When the roles change, the nature of the relationship is bound to change. This doesn’t have to be a loss though, you get to design what that next relationship will look like. But, continuing to go out to lunch with a select group or playing ping pong with your former teammate bestie won’t fly because you may appear to be playing favorites. If you want to still hang, you can - but be sure to find space for everyone on your team.  

You’ll also need to think about removing yourself from some social interactions. On Friday nights out, you use to be the one buying the whole team shots. Now, think again, being "the boss" shifts these practical situations to a potential legal burden. If something happens when you are out, being in a people leadership role can make you liable (you’ll need to look into your state or check with your HR team to get the specifics). You have to become aloof and unavailable - go out, buy a round and make a graceful exit. Or, chat with your leader - what is appropriate in your organization? The important thing is to be intentional - pick and choose when to be social.

Show Your Support

One or more of your peers/friends may have been in competition for the job. Depending on their personality, they’re going to be hurt, disappointed, or majorly pissed.

In some cases, there’s nothing you’ll be able to say or do to make the situation any better or easier – they’ll just have to adjust.

Regardless of their response, make it clear that you value that person in and out of the office, and that you want to support their development. You can say something like, “I understand you’re disappointed. You’re an important part of this team, and I’m going to make sure you have what you need to succeed.”

At the end of the day, being promoted offers both perks and headaches. Enjoy the perks, and deal with the headaches as gracefully as you can. Be authentic. Own up to any BS you may have taken part of in the past. Have the self-awareness to know what kind of team member you were in the past and what kind of leader you want to be in the future.

Gabriela McManus is Executive Director at Follow her on Twitter: @GabMcM