mate to manager transition leadership

One of the most exciting and yet difficult transitions is being promoted from within your workgroup into a leadership role of your former friends and peers.

On the one hand, you know them well and understand their specific and unique quirks and personalities; on the other hand, you also know there is potential for overstepping of boundaries and possible perceived inequality in how you treat certain members of the team over others.

What do you do?

As quickly as possible, you have to set in place a framework and structure to allow for authentic conversation and relationship building towards a common goal.

How do you this? 

Let’s dive right in….

Four Challenges of Moving from Mate to Manager

Your ability to recognise the potential pitfalls and blocks up ahead will help you come up with solutions and action steps in making sure you start on the right foot and keep moving in a positive direction forward is the first step.

Below are a list of the four key challenges you may face, what they mean and how to overcome them:

One: Changing Relationships:
Recognising that your friends and peers are no longer on the same “level” as you, means that you will need to re-establish boundaries and expectations.

One of the ways I did this when I was first promoted, was to take my best mate out for lunch to share the news of my promotion and to strategise how we’d continue our friendship, without it becoming an issue within the team. 

I also needed to raise the expectation that performance and authority of a leadership role meant that there would be certain information I could not divulge. 

The other big piece was the potential around redundancies, performance issues and the need to fairly manage performance across the team.

Although my best mate was a high performer, it was good to be able to speak with her about this.

Two: Dealing with Different Personalities
Knowing your team on a friendship level is different to managing them from an authority level.

The line between friendly and friendship is very fine indeed, so being able to identify my team’s behavioural profiles was really important so that I could start to identify the strengths and potential missing pieces within our team.

Having a diverse team allows for a diversity of ideas which leads to greater levels of innovation, crucial for companies to survive in the 21st century.

The tool I use in my leadership is based on the behavioural models of DISC and the like.
You can access and get your team to complete it here

Three: Having to Develop New Skill-Sets
As an individual contributor is different from being a leader. The amount of time spent using your technical skills will greatly reduce as you now develop your “people and strategic” skills.

Initially this may feel overwhelming as your technical skills have allowed you to get to this point, but now they are no longer enough for team cohesion and harmony in meeting team and departmental goals.

In my work with leaders, I have found that if you continue to focus on using and developing your technical skills, you will run out of time and capacity to develop relationships within your team, neglecting performance as you take a greater and greater burden of performance on your own shoulders.

So, get yourself onto a leadership course that focuses on building your personal and people skills as a leader.
You can find out I help leaders with this here

Four: Engaging in Feedback and Performance Conversations
The more regularly you engage with your people around their day-to day performance, the more you build trust around the fact that you care about them individually and are there to help them achieve their goals.

It also makes it a lot easier to have “difficult conversations” because your people are used to talking to you.

I recommend putting in place a weekly / monthly schedule on specific dates and times, and with an agenda with the individual members of your team.
Be sure to back that up with team meetings on an equally regular basis to build team morale.

eight Strategies to Help Transition from Mate to Manager

One: Ask for your Manager’s Support
Your manager has been an important part of your promotion, so asking for their help and coming up with a mutual plan on your development needs and the development of a team vision and set of goals is a no brainer.

Two: Look for a Sponsor
Whilst your manager can be relied on to help you with immediate leadership planning and team focus, you need to start to look for a sponsor who is senior enough in the organisation to be able to help you with your long term career aspirations and provide opportunities for growth outside of your area.

In return for their support, you will need to be prepared to offer your time and expertise to be available for key projects they need your help on.

Please note: a sponsor is NOT a mentor!

Whilst mentors are good whilst you are grooming for a new role, they do not have “skin” in the game so to speak in terms of being senior enough to hear of opportunities they can put you forward for.

Three: Providing Autonomy and Empowerment
As adults, our need for autonomy and feeling like we are empowered to make our own decisions around our job, is positive fuel within a team.

You have to learn to give trust before it is earned and allow your team to make decisions within a structured framework, so that you set them up for success rather than just let them go.

Four: Encouraging Solutions over Issues
The philosophy of teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish to keep hunger at bay for a day is at the heart of this strategy.

You want to make sure upfront that your team is empowered to make decisions and to seek solutions BEFORE they come to you with an issue.

By encouraging your team to have thought through an issue before they bring it to you, will allow you to work through which of their proposed solutions will be best suited to your environment.

This allows for greater collaboration and less time spent on dealing with “issues” each day from your end.

Five: Pre-Planning and Time Management
Your ability to set aside time and prioritise both your conversations and tasks is a good strategy to get started with.

Preparation is the key to successfully getting all your priorities ticked off and spending time with your people will allow for you to build trust and value in them. 

Six: Listen More, Talk Less
There is that lovely saying,

I don't care how much you know,

Until I know how much you care

Nothing says you care more than developing the skill of being interested in what the individuals within your team have to say.

Seven: Learn to How to Say No
At the risk of over-quoting, financial wizard Warren Buffet reckons that the way to get things done and to be successful is to learn to say no to most of the requests made of you.

Whilst I don’t suggest saying no to most of your team’s requests, I would suggest that as a leader, you will need to develop the skill-set and art of being able to graciously say no to requests that don’t line up with your priorities.

Eight: Be Prepared to be Uncomfortable with New, Uncomfortable Situations
What Covid-19 has taught us in leadership is to expect the unexpected and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

ELEVEN Skills and Habits Needed in Your New Role

One: Prioritise Timely Performance Discussions
Too often employees feel undervalued when their managers and organisations ignore or put off the formal catch-ups to discuss their progress and performance. Make sure you make time for these formal catch-ups

Two: Regular Catch-ups
The more regular, informal conversations via text, calls, meet ups virtually or face to face all involve different skill-sets, so identify which your team members want from you and start to work on developing these

Three: Open Discussion and Input
Your ability to remain curious and teachable will determine how much your team is able to come to you with their issues and concerns. Your ability to ask good questions and to really listen will set you in good stead to boost morale and engagement.

Four: Accepting Feedback
Learning to ask for feedback and then really listening to understand the perceptions and perspectives of those sharing with you is an art. Be sure to ask questions and for specific examples to help with this.

Five: Developing Empathy
The softer skills of empathy can be developed at both a cognitive and behavioural level. For more detail, click here for my video teaching on 
“Developing Empathy”

Six: Believing the Best in Your People
As a leader, you have to believe in the goodness of your people, because experience will show that a lot of the time although their delivery may be poor, the intention behind their delivery is good.

Seven: 100% Accountability
If you cannot take 100% responsibility for your words, actions and thoughts, you will find yourself stepping into judgement, blame, defensiveness when things are not going according to schedule. Your key responsibility is to role model for your team what it means to build relationship and trust. That means taking 100% accountability.

Eight: Identifying and Managing Bias
We all have triggers and get activated by the things other people do and say that may affect our dealings with them in a negative way. Your job as a leader is to work on identifying and then starting the hard work of learning to interrupt and replace your biases.

Nine: Difficult Conversations
Ahealthy team is a team who is able to talk about differences and engage in difficult conversations. Your role is to learn how to do this so you are able to role model the practice and the implementation in a safe, encouraging environment.

Ten: Patience and “Presentness”
your ability to engage with your people in the present and to stay with them while they engage with you is a core part of building trust and showing your care for them.

Eleven: Adapting and Flexing to Team Styles
If you have been on my courses, you know how passionate I am about identifying your own signature leadership style of communication so that you can come from a place of strength when you adapt and flex your style to meet the needs of your people in their natural styles.

If you haven’t yet completed your Signature Leadership Style, you can do so here

By learning to accept change as the new normal and keeping your people at the forefront of your plans and priorities, your transition from mate to manager doesn’t need to be difficult or chaotic.

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Your promotion is a wonderful complement and an incredible opportunity to change the lives of those you work with in positive and lasting ways.

Questions to Consider:


What do you think will be your biggest challenge in moving from mate to manager?


What strategies do you think will best serve you in overcoming these?


Who do you know who you can support and lift you up from a sponsorship perspective – whether in your or another organisation?


What skills do you think your customer, team and organisation need the most over the next 12 months?

Best wishes in stepping up, be sure to leave your comments below and I’ll, 

See you at the top!

Signature Sign Off - Kerry Anne Cassidy

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