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From “Bestie” to Boss: Managing Friends and Keeping Them…

If you were offered a promotion, you’d take it, right? Most of us would. More money, more responsibility, more kudos, more influence… career success! Who wouldn’t want that?

But becoming a manager isn’t always that easy. Yes, you’ve taken a step up the career ladder, but now it’s not just you that you have to look out for. There’s a whole team depending on you – and some of them will likely be your former peers. You count them as friends. You’ve turned to them for advice. Perhaps you’ve even moaned to them about the job, the boss, or the management.

So, how do you react? Do you dive right in and start throwing your weight around, to “show ’em who’s boss”? Or, do you try to stay “one of the guys” by taking a more laid-back approach?

And what about them? Will they be happy for you? Envious? Annoyed?

Managing friends or former peers can be a minefield. In this blog post, two Mind Tools managers share their experiences of taking the leap from colleague to boss…

Case Study One: “Managing Friends Is Not What I Expected”

By Kelsey Batchelor, Senior Client Success Manager

About 18 months ago, I spoke with my boss about the prospect of me taking up a managerial role on the team. It was an exciting opportunity, but it would mean that I’d be managing one of my closest friends.

I was worried about how it would affect my relationship with my friend. I’d even been Best Woman at his wedding. Now, I would be his boss.

However, after thinking it over for a long time, I decided that the new position was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Lucky for me, he was very excited at the prospect. But I still felt fearful. I was the person that he turned to when he clashed with his previous manager. What would happen now? Would he still talk to me about problems like this? Or, would he start hiding things from me?

To begin with, things were a bit strange and awkward. I spent loads of time trying to find the right balance between being his friend and being his manager. And, there were times when I had to bring up small issues with him, like turning up to work late.

I’m not sure he took it seriously – after all, I was his friend. We had a number of conversations about the fact that, at times, he had to see me as his manager. For example, when we were in one-on-ones, or during meetings.

So, while the dynamics of our relationship did change at work, they didn’t change outside of it. At work, I’m his manager. I help him to work through his frustrations and challenges, so that he can continue his professional development and, hopefully, manage a team of his own one day. But outside of work, we’re just the same as we were before: good friends, who can have a laugh and a joke.

If I’m honest, managing friends is not what I expected. I thought it would be much easier. I assumed that because he was my friend, he’d be the perfect staff member. In fact, it was a lot harder, because sometimes he acted as if nothing had changed. He didn’t always appreciate the responsibilities that came with my new role.

But, though it was hard to start with, now it’s so satisfying to see someone whom I care about personally and professionally do so well.

Case Study Two: “I Was Very Driven to Be Liked”

By Simon Hulcoop, Senior Manager EMEA

When I first became a manager, I was keen to have open and honest conversations with my team members. I wanted to let them know that I empathized with them, and that, if the roles were reversed, I may have felt envious or worried about how the new dynamic would work.

From Bestie to Boss: Managing Friends and Keeping Them
Simon Hulcoop

So, I asked them, “How do you like to work? How do you like to be managed?”

Because I already knew them, I understood what they liked and disliked, and what motivated or bugged them. This really helped during the transition period.

And they knew a lot about me, too! They were confident that I knew the job inside out, and that I already had a proven track record for success.

To start with, I was very driven to be liked, and this did impact my leadership style. I became more laid-back than I’d have liked to be.

If you’re not careful, being too accommodating toward team members who are also your friends can negatively impact the wider team and even the organization.

For example, I once worked in a company where a sales manager allowed his friend on the team to offer discounts to potential customers. But he wouldn’t allow his other team members to do the same. This distorted the team’s results, because it looked like she was performing better than the others. Eventually, it caused her colleagues to become resentful and cynical toward her.

Consistency and fairness are vital when you’re managing friends. You should make decisions with the entire group in mind, so that others don’t feel left out or hard done by. No matter what decisions you make as a manager, you can guarantee that the rest of your team is talking about them and comparing information.

So, it’s essential to be as open and transparent as possible. Keep a record of everything, to show that you’re being fair. How you delegate work, and the system that you use for granting time off, are particularly sensitive areas.

Occasionally, you’ll discover bad practice, and you’ll have to call it out. For example, I found out that some people on my team were making random calls just to get their figures up, even though they knew the calls wouldn’t end in a successful sale.

I always try my best to avoid arguing publicly, but I couldn’t simply ignore this behavior. I had to confront it, and I don’t think they expected me to take the strong stance that I did.

But I didn’t cut off my friendships completely after I became manager. I still socialized with the team – but I knew when it was time to leave!

Also, there were new, extra pressures on me from senior management. I had my own targets to reach, but I was now responsible for supporting my team’s targets, too.

And I was expected to “side” with senior managers’ way of thinking. After all, I was one of them now, and I should use the approaches that they thought were right, even if I didn’t always agree with them. So, I had some serious dilemmas to resolve. Should I stick up for what I thought was right, or submit to their way of doing things? Sometimes you have to pick and choose, depending on the situation.

And, finally, one of things that I found the most difficult about managing friends was having to delegate some of my old tasks to them. Letting go of projects that I worked really hard on, and made my own, was tough. I still miss some of my old duties, even though passing them on to others has given me more time to focus on my managerial responsibilities.

What are your experiences of managing friends? How did people react when you got promoted? What did you do to establish your credibility as a manager? Share your thoughts, below.


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