How New Leaders Can Stop Everyone From Hating Them When They Become The Boss

How to switch from team member to coach without your former coworkers turning on you.

Co-worker to boss transitiion Julie Kislev, Dean Drobot | Canva

Moving from coworker to boss can be an extreme challenge for first-time managers. However, when you confront the transition into management with forethought and planning, you will flourish in your new leadership role without everyone hating you!

Like you, Jacinda struggled with challenges going from coworker to boss. Because of her youth and inexperience as a manager, she noticed feelings of imposter syndrome. A few of her former teammates seemed awkward around her after she became a manager.


Once one of the gang, Jacinda noticed a sudden shift in dynamics when she started leading the team, and the shift created an uneasy feeling. She realized she could better serve herself and her team by setting an effective tone early.

Luckily, you can learn from Jacinda’s successful experience and take action to prevent everyone from hating you when you go from coworker to boss.

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You don't have to become the team's enemy when you're promoted over them

To begin your new role on the right foot, let's be sure you're not doing any of the following. These actions are easy mistakes to make in the coworker-to-boss transition, and they quickly alienate the people who used to be your teammates and friends. 

Three leadership mistakes to avoid

1. Doing their work for them

You excelled at meeting deadlines and getting things done as a team member. Chances are, this is the work ethic that helped with your promotion. As a manager, you will need to temper your instinct to complete tasks with the need to lead successfully. You must develop a more strategic focus. This includes giving the autonomy to your team to complete their tasks without constant oversight.

2. Micromanaging anyone or everyone

Micromanagers are the scourge of the workplace. If there is a workplace hell, it’s filled with controlling, nitpicking managers who sabotage creativity and try to control every aspect of an individual’s work. You don’t want that for yourself, and no one around you wants it either, so don’t go there, not even for a second. Micromanaging can be avoided with thoughtful leadership skills like delegation.

There are two kinds of micromanagers: those who think they are effective, yet are not. And those who know they're not but want to improve. There’s hope for the second category. If that’s you and you want to continue to grow, work on trusting your team. Note that there is no such term as “micro-leader" for a good reason.


3. Showing favoritism because of friendship

You can maintain the friendships you’ve forged with your teammates, but you must be careful about these relationships now that you are in management. While we’re all adults, you don’t want your team to perceive you as playing favorites. Jacinda and her closest friend on the team went to lunch daily before Jacinda became manager. When Jacinda went from coworker to boss, her friend acted as if nothing had changed.

Jacinda had to set the tone for her work relationships going forward. Jacinda told her friend that because of her promotion, she would like to keep their interactions at work professional. That meant not lunching with her or anyone on the team. Instead, she arranged quarterly all-team business lunches to drive interpersonal engagement mixed with some work strategic planning.

Doing your team's work, micromanaging them, and playing favorites are no-nos in your new role. However, there are many helpful things you can implement.

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Seven actions to start taking as a new leader 

On the positive side, these simple actions can set a firm foundation of leadership for your future career success.

1. Facilitate efficient communication

Staying in touch with your team is easy when you use various methods of communication. Such as quick meetings, brief emails about any pertinent changes, and instituting regular one-on-one meetings are great places to start.

2. Lead by example

When you go from coworker to boss, your former teammates will be watching you. How you handle things gives them clues about what is acceptable. If you like to work late and make yourself accessible at all hours, they will think they are also expected to. Your behavior is what your team will emulate.

3. Communicate expectations for everything

Part of effective team communication is setting expectations. It may take a few weeks to get a feeling for a new role but don’t wait too long. If you plan to do things differently than the previous manager, you must inform the team about the new expectations with examples.


4. Delegate, delegate, delegate

As a manager, you must transition from the individual contributor mindset to focus on more strategic priorities while trusting the team to do the work they are trained and experienced to do. So, you will delegate many of your tasks and projects to the team. If you’re nervous about this, start slow with the lower-risk projects and tasks. When you are more comfortable delegating tasks, involving your team in higher-risk tasks and projects becomes easy.

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5. Allow for autonomy

When you fully delegate, you give autonomy. You encourage your team to take ownership by letting the individuals decide the best way to approach their work. Seeing you go from coworker to boss is highly motivating to them, and combining this with team autonomy goes a long way toward building trust.


6. Always ask for advice

Once you feel more comfortable in your role and you’ve begun to develop trust as a leader, you may want to seek input from your team members. It could be about a project or, if you dare, your performance. Asking for advice is more effective than asking for feedback. When asked to provide advice, people tend to focus less on evaluation and more on potential future actions. This way, you’re more likely to get information you can directly apply to your leadership skills.

7. Watch how confidence Increases

Jacinda successfully applied these tactics in her role immediately. Within a few months, she felt more confident in her leadership role. The imposter syndrome faded, and her confidence increased. She is happy she implemented these steps early in her new role, as she knows it’s much harder to make changes later. Best of all, she prevented everyone from hating her when she went from coworker to boss!

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Brent Roy, PCC, CPLC, CMC, is a certified executive, career and personal development coach, and mentor coach. He works with men and women who want to increase their confidence and boost their executive presence to prepare them for promotion or a new career.