How to Deal with the Transition from Peer to Manager and Keep Employee Engagement Up

Climbing the Ladder Doesn’t Mean You Have to Leave Others Behind

An opportunity opens. You apply, as do a number of your coworkers – the ones you’ve grumbled and worked with over the last year, two, five. You know your coworkers aspirations. Some you get along with, others you don’t. And you get that coveted position.

This is … hard.

Moving from peer to manager can cause a lot of ruffled feathers. Certainly, some will be happy for you, excited for you. We’re all human, though, and that seed of envy can really be deep-rooted. There are things both an organization and new leader can do to make the transition better.

1. Leadership development must be an integral part of the organization. When new leadership positions open, there should be an expectation that those employees who show most leadership skills will be considered for these promotions. Growth-focused environments are ones that focus on self-reflection, learning, and honest feedback. These work environments build leaders and teams.

2. Not every great employee should be a manager. This is the common “climb-the-ladder” fallacy and mindset. There’s this lingering idea that the only way to improve is move up in an organization. Your star engineer, for instance, should have opportunities to grow (both economically and in terms of education) in her field without feeling the need to become the manager. They are different skill sets and equally important. Having a more horizonal workplace can chip away at the archaic idea of climb, climb, climb.

3. Discuss the weird of being the “new boss.” This is the big-fat elephant (or unicorn, since that’s the trend) in the room, and if you take the awkwardness of the moment in that first meeting in a candid way, your team will feel more comfortable. Remember, you’re going to have to put on your new manager hat and listen – even when the comments aren’t going to be so positive. Your coworkers might believe there was a better choice. Communication is always a pillar of employee engagement. Now, though, it matters more than anything. Discuss the transition and areas you need to strengthen to become a better leader and create a psychologically safe environment.

4. Don’t go down the Steve Jobs road. Oftentimes new leaders slip into the micromanager zone. You have a unique opportunity because you KNOW your coworkers, their strengths, and were just in their shoes. Take this new step to delegate the work well, give your employees the autonomy to get the job done, and hold everyone accountable.

5. It’s not you, it’s me … or it could be you. Honestly, sometimes the sting of not getting the promotion can create so much tension that your former peer, now employee, can’t move forward. Understand this is normal. You can do everything you need to do, and it could be time to part ways. Work with human resources, discuss ways to make the transition better for everyone, come up with strategies, and recognize when a situation turns from difficult to toxic. There’s no room for toxicity in any organization.

If the organization has a growth mindset and everybody feels like they have the opportunity to participate and get ahead, this will ease the transition from peer-to-boss. Prepare yourself, too, as a new leader to take on this challenging role and continue supporting your team, building them, and constructing a positive work environment. Then kick the unicorn out the room. (Hey! Nobody said it was going to be easy.)

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