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Supervising former peers is opportunity to grow as leader

Coach's Corner--December 15, 2008

The Client
Name: Denyce
Age: 32
Time at company: Five years 
Industry: Telecommunications
Issue: Supervising former peers
Q. I was recently promoted to supervisor, and my former peers are now my direct reports. The person who seems least happy, and probably expected the promotion, is also one of our worst performers. We’re a small, informal company. How do I deal with my new responsibilities without seeming to take myself too seriously?

A. Transforming existing relationships when you move into a new role can be challenging. Treat it as an opportunity for dramatic growth in your leadership skills.

The inner game
How’s your confidence? If you have concerns about your promotion, it’ll be hard to project assurance in your role, and could reinforce any perceptions that the wrong choice was made. Take a deep look, identify any anxieties you have, and focus on relaxing so they don’t get in your way.

Know your strengths. Your boss promoted you for a reason. List the strengths that put you in the supervisor’s seat, and look for new ways to apply them. For example, if you’re great at communication, think about how these skills can help you in your new role.

Explore your colleagues’ perspectives. Put yourself in each person’s shoes, not just the one you’re concerned about. Consider their communication styles, anxiety triggers, and preferences for receiving recognition and feedback. Also, evaluate your predecessor’s strengths and weaknesses. Building on what has worked before, along with new insights, will help you lead the team effectively.

The outer game
Get your boss on board. If you aren’t completely clear about the owner’s expectations for you, ask for a meeting to get them spelled out. Seek a mentor to be a sounding board about some of the challenges new managers face. Ask your boss, or find a trusted peer or coach who can provide this assistance.

Don’t single out one person. Instead, get the entire team engaged and accepting of your new authority while maintaining your informal culture. Ask about what people want from work and how things are going for them. Make sure that performance expectations are clear, and that you’re providing opportunities for people to correct errors or advance their skills.

Pay attention. Provide feedback in the moment to help people improve and to acknowledge good performance. That’ll likely feel more natural to people than a more formal approach of scheduled meetings. Eventually, try introducing occasional in-depth meetings to talk about each employee’s future without being heavy handed.

Advance your leadership skills. You don’t have to be a perfect supervisor right away, but it’s your responsibility to learn. Find development resources that can help fill your gaps. If budget is an issue, there are many excellent books and websites; the key will be trying new behaviors in a consistent way. It’s a good example for your team, too.

Worst case? Your low performer won’t be willing to change. In that case, you’ll have evidence that you’ve provided many opportunities for success, and you may need to ask that person to move on.

The last word
The key to your situation is to be clear, fair and consistent. This will position you to succeed in your new leadership role, despite the challenges.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted December 14, 2008
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