First Time Manager – how to manage your co-workers

Your Family Magazine June 2020 Reader Question:

I am having some issues with boundaries in the workplace. I have always been friends with my coworkers, but I recently got promoted into a management position, where I am now managing my coworkers. Is there a way I can remain friends with them, while also being their manager? How do I balance being friendly with being firm? I’m really struggling to be assertive without being authoritative, as I don’t want to alienate them at all. Please help! 


Firstly, congratulations on your appointment! This is an amazing opportunity to create an environment where your team can be successful.

I want to assure you that you’re not alone. Many people promoted to a first-time management role grapple with the same issue – how do I transition from being a team member yesterday to being the manager today, especially if the team members are your friends.

The first step is really to decided what type of manager you want to be. There are many different styles and based on your approach you can increase your influence and be more effective. I would recommend adopting a servant leadership style as it emphasizes the shift towards enabling your team to succeed. Think of a gardener as a metaphor. You are the gardener and your role is to ensure each team member grows and have what they need to be successful. As a gardener, you will know which plants need more water or sun. You would know when you need to add soil or prune the plants to flourish. It is your role to help them perform at their highest level and make them successful.

Back to your question. Don’t let the personal relationship cloud your new responsibilities or the business decisions you need to make. You need to realize that your responsibilities have changed. Be transparent about it and include your team in the solution. Arrange one-on-one sessions with each team member and clarify boundaries (this include all the team members not only the ones that are friends). During the discussion, clarify your expectation of each team member and their expectations of you as their manager. It is critical to have open, honest conversations about this.

Once you have done that you can continue with the following questions as I recommend these discussion points for any new manager:

  • What have your previous managers done that you want me to repeat?
  • What are your strengths? And what are the priorities you are working on?
  • What is your favourite thing to work on? Where do you need my support?
  • What kind of feedback works best for you?
  • How do you want to receive recognition?
  • How are we going to handle differences? What are the norms/values that you (as the manager) are non-negotiable on?

This will help you to understand their needs from a management point of view; it will give insight into what to avoid and understand what would work best for them.  Also a reminder that what works for one team member, may not work for a different team member.

You will have to find a balance between personal and business conversations with your friends. In any working relationship, there is a personal and professional focus. Be intentional on establishing a professional relationship as you might, in the future, need to have tough performance feedback discussions. You might be tempted to soundboard some ideas with your friends but be mindful not to treat them or include them exclusively into discussions.



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