Can I still be a friend? Maybe a different kind of friend?
August 4, 2010 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me deal with transitioning from peer to authority figure.

For the past three years I've been working in an office setting within a group of six people plus our boss. All of us came in on the ground floor as equals when our dept was formed, and our positions require that we all work pretty closely together on various projects. I've become casual friends with four of my coworkers and very close friends with one of them--we don't really get together outside of work but we text and phone each other regularly after work hours/weekends and we've helped each other through some tough emotional times over the past three years.

I'm about to be promoted to a newly created position within our dept--I'll have a senior-level position directly below our boss. I don't think that anyone will question my receiving this promotion as I have significantly more tenure/experience within our parent company, have several publicized successes under my belt, and am widely viewed as the "go-to" person within our group.

I know my personal relationships within my group--especially with my very close friend--will need to change. Everyone will still report directly to our boss, and their performance evals will be conducted by her, but I will now be in a position of some authority and will have access to sensitive and confidential info.

If you've ever been in a similar position, how did you deal with switching from the role of peer/friend to a role of authority? What (if any) mistakes did you make and how would you have done things differently? Or, if someone you've worked with has been promoted, what did they do to make sure the situation worked? What do you wish they had done differently? Any advice/anecdotes will be appreciated!
posted by bookmammal to Human Relations (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
play it by ear. follow your gut instincts.
you will know things have changed when you walk into the lunch room and the raucous laughter suddenly dies down.
posted by dougiedd at 5:15 PM on August 4, 2010

I don't think you have to change the friend relationships, necessarily. Especially since you aren't a "boss". If you are promoted to a hiring/firing/reviewing position, you would have to be more careful. But it sounds like you are more of a "team lead", and that's a different scenario.

But the best advice I can give, from observations, is to:

1- Make it clear to them what your job IS and what it ISN'T.
2- Make it clear that you intend to do your job as well as you can, and you won't be asking anything of them that they can't handle, or what the your boss would have asked for.
3- Be very careful of relying on outside authority. If it is your responsibility to collect some report, don't say "hey, Bob needs your report at noon, so please give it to me when you can." If it is your job, then you ask for it.
4- Don't change anything unless there is a reason, and explain what that reason it.
5- Continue to be friends, but figure out and stick to your personal limits about where the line between "friend" and "work" is.
posted by gjc at 5:22 PM on August 4, 2010

My go-to recommendation for new leaders is the book Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach. It was written for military leaders, but the techniques and lessons apply equally as well in civilian life.

The best advice I would give to new leaders is to resist the urge to pull rank or show dominance. If you're doing it right, you'll never have to give an order, and if you're giving orders you're doing it wrong.

Having said all that, I believe you're going to have a very hard time being an authority figure in this instance. The main reason is that, according to your account of the situation, you're not going to be an authority figure. You got a promotion from "Junior Paper Shuffler" to "Senior Paper Shuffler." You all still report to the same boss. Did you get a raise and a change in job description or is this a "here's a better title in lieu of a raise" situation? I would strongly caution you not to make more out of your new title than is really there. In my opinion, nothing has really changed unless your peers start reporting to you.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:36 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

People tend not to mind a deserving person getting a leadership position. I think you're overestimating the changes that have to be made. Just keep doing what you do, and acting the same way you already act. If you have to ask someone to do something they don't want to do, eh, maybe they'll bitch about it. Maybe they'll make some sort of "humorous" remark about how you've switched to the dark side. But really, they know you, so they know you're doing your best to do your job. Sure, you're going to know some confidential information and they'll understand if you don't blab it all around.

The thing that's going to irritate them, is if YOU, YOURSELF feel that somehow it's all different - you're now 'higher class,' that you can't really hang out with them or be friendly like you were because you think it wouldn't look right.

So congratulations on your promotion. Don't let it go to your head and act like a big shot around your friends, and it will all be fine.
posted by ctmf at 5:38 PM on August 4, 2010

Also, don't hide how much more work your new job is. Being promoted to higher authority means more responsibility as well. Lots of people will think, man, I wish that had been me, but on the other hand, I sure am glad I don't have to deal with THAT every day. You shouldn't be overt about complaining about it (which is just a backhanded patting-your-own-back) but don't try to modestly make it seem like you do the same thing they do with a fancier title, either.
posted by ctmf at 5:43 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a small office like that, the best thing you can do is not to position yourself as an authority but a resource. Your friendship does not need to change, nor do your relationships with your co-workers. This job does not need to change things significantly except that in addition to being the go-to person, you may now also be the dish-out, job-assigning, meeting leading, deadline watching person, too.

Really, in an office like this, you want to wear this promotion as lightly as possible; you can ask people to do things and assign deadlines without making it about your authority, but rather what's best for the team you're leading.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:04 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best bosses I've had who have been in my peer group are those who treat the dynamic as a team. Sure, they have some different responsibilities, but we all pull our weight and we all know what the roles are.

To the extent that your boss can help, make sure it's clear to you (and to the rest of the group) what your new responsibilities are and what responsibilities are collectively shared. In my group, I now review my teammates' work products as the leader of that small team, but I do my own share of generating similar products and have my direct boss review them so that I'm sharing in the "grunt work." (People who have not been so successful in my organization are the ones who think that the promotion exempts them from doing the bread-and-butter work - all they want to do is tell other people to do things.)

To the extent that you're asking people to do things that might be provoke thoughts of "Why can't she do it herself?" explain why you can't do it as you assign the task. I used to have bosses ask me to do lots of small things, and although I was willing to do them, I wondered why they couldn't do these things themselves. Now that I'm in the team lead position, I realize that because of the chain of command, it's logistically easier for me to ask a teammate to do the task so that I can review it than for me to do it and hassle someone higher up the food chain who isn't as involved in our project to review it. When I explain that, my teammates are more understanding.
posted by Terriniski at 6:11 PM on August 4, 2010

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