A Leadership Challenge: Managing Former Peers


Developing Business Leadership skills in our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world is an leadership-challenge.jpgevolving and non-stop process.  Every day, existing and new leaders face both unique and similar leadership challenges to the way they execute the strategy of their businesses through other people. One difficult leadership challenge they face is managing direct reports who were once peers.

In Advantexe’s new business leadership business simulation, Fundamentals of Business Leadership, participants take on the role of a new leader managing a team trying to execute the overall strategy of the business and hit the specific targets related to their department including project management and new product development issues.

The simulation is an abstraction of reality and presents participants with about 40 different “scenarios” to think through so they can ultimately develop their leadership best practices.

About half-way through the first round, there is the realization that one of the people you are leading on your simulated team used to be a peer and is acting a little unusual because of the transition from peer to manager.  Often, we have deep discussions about this scenario and the practical implications of taking the learning back to the real word.

Based on our simulation experiences, feedback, and addition research, I share with you 5 techniques to employ if you are faced with this situation:

1 – Manage and Focus to the Big Picture

You have a team of people, most likely not just one or two people that used to be peers.  You need to start your leadership process with a big picture perspective and manage to your goals, objectives, and key priorities.  Focusing on making sure a couple of people are happy at the start of your leadership process will set a negative tone that may not be able to overcome.

2 – Acknowledge the Reality that Things are Different

Part of becoming a leader is growing up and acknowledging that things change; part of your new responsibilities are to evaluate performance and provide coaching and feedback to everyone on your team.  You need to take the time and find the methods to communicate to everyone on the team that this is the way it is going to be.

3 – Be Direct with Feedback and Coaching

Based on dozens of conversations with leaders in this situation, they always share that this is the hardest part.  You cannot sidestep issues and you cannot be soft.  You need to be direct and factual with your coaching and feedback. There are great tools such as the GROW model that is based in observed facts which can be used as the basis for the coaching.

4 – Take Immediate Action when Action is Needed

If performance is falling short and a former peer who is now a direct report isn’t responding to the coaching and feedback then you must take the same action you would with any other team member.  Again, I realize this is harder than it sounds.  You need to remember as a new leader, everyone on the team is watching and if they think you are playing favorites you could lose the respect of the team and any chance to be an effective manager.

5 - Make Adjustments to Your Style and Behaviors Based on Results

You are not going to be perfect and you are going to make mistakes.  You need to illustrate to your former peers that are now direct reports that you are constantly evaluating and evolving as a leader and are willing to learn and adapt. Doing this will earn their respect and more importantly show them you are a different person as a manager.


Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.