• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Leadership transitions: From peer to leader

Leadership transition

Transitioning from peer to leader is an intricate metamorphosis that requires a delicate balance of newfound authority and the earned respect of former equals. In the first part of our series, we explore the multifaceted journey from colleague to manager and outline a strategic approach for those standing at this critical crossroads.

The transition to management is a profound identity shift, not unlike an actor stepping into a new role; the setting might be familiar, but the script has changed, and so has your character within it. How does one navigate this transformation while maintaining the equilibrium between respect and command with former peers?

The first step in the transition from peer to leader is recognising the psychological and relational changes that accompany this shift. As individual contributors, professionals are accustomed to shining the light on their achievements and working towards personal goals. However, as William Gentry of the Centre for Creative Leadership emphasises, the move to leadership demands a ‘flip of the script.’ Success as a leader is now inextricably linked to the performance and development of the team.

 “The transition to management is a profound identity shift, not unlike an actor stepping into a new role; the setting might be familiar, but the script has changed, and so has your character within it.”

It’s not just about taking charge but about redefining the way you interact with your former peers. The authoritative role requires a nuanced approach, one that balances firm decision-making with emotional intelligence. It’s a journey from execution to strategy, from doing to enabling, and from individual success to collective triumph.

Establishing authority as a new manager does not entail a draconian display of power but rather the subtle art of commanding respect through confidence and competence. Nearly 60 percent of respondents in Gentry’s survey cited adjustment to people management and the display of authority as their biggest hurdles. This is not surprising, given that the relationships with former peers, which may have been built on camaraderie and equality, now need to be recalibrated.

Read also: Understanding the behavioural dynamics of leadership

To navigate this delicate transition, it is critical to establish a dialogue around the evolving dynamics. Jason Evanish, CEO of Get Lighthouse, suggests new leaders should have one-on-one conversations with their former peers to discuss the change and address any potential awkwardness. The goal is to let individuals voice their concerns and to actively listen, thereby easing the team into the new structure.

Caryn Bedford, an organisational development consultant, echoes the importance of the direct approach. A leader must be clear about how their role and, consequently, their relationships will change. This clarity prevents misunderstandings and the sense of rejection that might arise from a perceived shift in friendliness.

Once expectations are set, the new manager’s actions must reinforce their words. Consistency, fairness, and transparency are the pillars upon which respect is built. Bonuses, promotions, and resource allocation must be handled with impartiality, as Gentry points out. Everyone must know that preferential treatment is off the table.

Case Study:

Consider the experience of a manager who recently made the leap from peer to leader within a tech startup. Understanding the anxieties her promotion might cause among her former peers, she took proactive steps to address the potential elephant in the room with a series of one-on-one meetings. In these sessions, she not only outlined her new vision and expectations but also took the time to understand her team members’ career aspirations and concerns. This openness helped to demystify her new role and set the stage for a culture of open communication. These meetings also afforded her the opportunity to clarify her commitment to fairness. By sharing the criteria for performance evaluations and opportunities for advancement, she alleviated fears of favouritism and underscored her dedication to transparency.

Read also: Uplifting leadership: Organisation or institution

For those embarking on this journey, here are concrete steps to reset expectations and establish your new role:

As soon as your new role is announced, initiate conversations with your former peers to discuss how your relationship will change. Transparency about your new responsibilities and how you plan to manage the team will lay the foundation for trust.

While you can still maintain a friendly rapport with your team, it’s important to redefine the limits of these relationships in a professional context. This might include changes in social media connections, reframing personal conversations during work hours, or redirecting work-related discussions to more formal channels.

Demonstrate the behaviours you expect from your team. Show up on time, meet deadlines, and hold yourself accountable. Leading by example is one of the most powerful ways to earn respect.

Create an environment where every team member feels valued and heard. Encourage input, give credit where it’s due, and handle conflicts fairly and promptly.

Regular, constructive feedback helps team members understand how they’re doing and what they can improve upon. It’s also an opportunity to reaffirm your role as a manager who is invested in their development.

Show that you’re open to learning and growing in your new role by asking for feedback from your team, peers, and superiors.

Invest in Your Development: As you guide others, don’t forget to continue your learning journey. Attend leadership training, read management books, and seek mentors to strengthen your skills.

Do look out for a continuation of this article next week.

Dr. Toye Sobande is a strategic leadership expert, lawyer, public speaker, and trainer. He is the CEO of Stephens Leadership Consultancy LLC, a strategy and management consulting firm offering creative insight and solutions to businesses and leaders. Email: [email protected]