6 Tips On How To Easily And Successfully Move From Colleague To Boss

How do I find my way into a new leadership role if I was previously a team member myself and now lead my former colleagues? This is a question asked by some of the first-time leaders I work with as a coach. They are unsure how to make a smooth transition into the new role and worry whether their former teammates will actually accept them in the leadership role. The following six tips will help you to quickly settle into your new role and to maintain a good relationship with your former colleagues and now employees:

1. Self-reflection: change and continuity

Think about what will be different with the new role and what will stay the same. For example, you will now probably sometimes get information from management earlier than everyone else, which you will have to keep to yourself at first. On the other hand, you will no longer hear everything that is going on in the team. However, your personality and your sense of humour most likely remain unchanged! Think about what worked well in the team under the previous leader and what you would like to continue. These are all topics that you can openly share with your team at the kick-off meeting!

2. From colleague to boss: The kick-off

Especially on your first day as a new leader from within the team, it is important that you and the team are clear that the roles have changed. What rituals are there to mark the transition? This could be a joint meeting with your manager with an official handover in front of the team, a move to a new office or a getting together for a cake as a ritual for the first day.

3. Hopes & Concerns

To find out what hopes your team has for you as a new leader and what concerns or unanswered questions they have, you can do this 30-minute workshop exercise. Give the team ten minutes individually to brainstorm about their hopes and concerns on post-its (this can also be done virtually via virtual whiteboards such as Miro or Mural). In parallel, you can also answer these questions for yourself on post-its. Then the team shares their post-its with you and you share yours with the team. I find it very honest to show yourself vulnerable as a leader, for example by sharing your insecurities.

Then start a second round of brainstorming together: What can you and what can the team do to increase the chances that the hopes will actually come true and what do you have in your hands that the concerns will preferably not come true? Think about concrete actions that you would like to implement in the first weeks together and record them.

4. Get to know your team from a new perspective

Even if you think “I know everyone in the team”, I recommend taking time for extensive 1:1 conversations at the beginning. As Claire Lew from KnowYourTeam says, don’t be tempted to overlook the 1:1 meeting! Although you know from a colleague’s point of view what a person has done and what is important for him or her at work, you don’t know it from a team leader’s point of view. In this way, your team members directly perceive that it is important for you to see and value them from the perspective of your new role.

5. Boss AND friend - is that possible?

Many coachees I work with find it difficult to give unpopular tasks and negative feedback to team members they are friends with. They often have the feeling that they have to be boss OR friend. I think it is also possible to be a boss AND a friend! Make it clear to yourself that you can get along with your team members on a personal level and at the same time give clear feedback when e.g. tasks are not completed on time.

6. Envy towards you from individual team members

Envy or resentment may arise if other colleagues have also applied for your job. It is important that your own leader does their part to make it clear to everyone in the team that you were chosen to lead the team for XY reason. In order to secure the long-term support of the team members who have also applied for your position, it is important from a systemic point of view that they feel seen, heard and valued. In a conversation you can find out what it was exactly that made them apply for the role: Was it perhaps in order to get more visibility in the company? Have a look as their manager what you can do now to give the person more visibility through other ways, e.g. through cross-functional projects, presentations in front of clients, etc..

Even if the step from colleague to boss brings its challenges, these six tips can help you to get started. As a food for thought, you can also put yourself in your team’s shoes and ask yourself the question: As a team member, what would I expect or want to know about myself as a boss?

Would you like to feel even stronger supported in your first leadership role? Katrin also offers a new product to support first-time leaders even better: The First-Time Leaders Community. It includes a self-paced video training, regular workshops and exchange with peers, and optional individual coaching sessions. Learn more and sign up today if you think you can benefit from it!

photo by Lucie Greiner