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112. From Peer to Leader: Navigating the Transition

There are few transitions more awkward and challenging than becoming the leader of your former team.

However, with the power of self-awareness, clear communication, and consistency you can not only make it through, but also accelerate your growth and your team's performance.

In this episode, you will learn the following:

  1. What is the worst thing you can do when transitioning into a leadership role?

  2. How can self-awareness, perspective taking, and clear communication help you navigate difficult transitions?

  3. What tips can you use to prepare for a difficult conversation with your former peers?

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While it's not perfect, we offer this transcription by Capsho for those who prefer to read or who are hearing impaired.

Hello. I am back from a short break I took with my family, and I'm here today to talk about one of the most difficult challenges of moving into a leadership role the fact that you may be now responsible for leading people who used to be your peers.

If you're wondering why you don't feel like celebrating as much as you thought you would now that you've landed that promotion you've been working towards, this may be one of the reasons. But fear not. Today we're going to talk through some strategies that will make this transition and other difficult ones that you'll face in your leadership journey easier to navigate.

00:00:39 I'm Teri Schmidt, founder of Stronger to Serve Coaching and Teambuilding. And this is the Strong Leaders Serve podcast.

Okay, so I want to start today with the worst thing you can do when going through this transition, or really any transition. Then we're going to get into how, with the power of self awareness, perspective taking, clear communication, and consistency, you can not just make it through this transition, but also use it to accelerate your growth and the performance of your new team. So let's start with the worst thing you can do, and that is assume that your new title and reporting relationship will make all the pieces just fall into place with your former peers.

00:01:24 First, you know what they say about what happens when you assume. Second, if you don't address the awkwardness generated by this transition head on, you will be crippling your team from the beginning, and the underlying emotions and tension will surface when you least expect them. So what does it look like to take this head on? Well, if there's one mantra that I want you to remember throughout this whole process, it's Brene Brown's quote. That clear is kind.

00:01:54 Be clear with yourself about what you're going through, get clarity about what your former peer is going through, and finally, have a clear and honest conversation together about what has changed, what has not changed, and what the way forward looks like. So let's start with being clear with yourself. What emotions and thoughts are circling around within you. You may be surprised to know that you are actually in a time of not just celebration, but also of grief. Yes, I said grief.

00:02:27 No, grief is not just an experience you face after a loved one dies. In fact, if you listen to our episode 90 with Laura Jack about how to lead through grief, you may remember one of the definitions of grief that she shared. She said that grief is the, quote, conflicting feelings that come at the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. We talked in that episode about how almost all of life's events that we celebrate graduating from college, getting married, having a baby, starting a new job, all of those experiences also involve grief as they are accompanied by changes in familiar patterns of behavior. So in this transition in particular, what are those familiar patterns of behavior that are changing for you?

00:03:23 What might you and your former peers be grieving? Maybe it's going out to lunch or happy hour to complain about work. Maybe for you, it's feeling comfortable in your knowledge and competence. Maybe it's being able to tell each other everything. So what do you do about this grief?

00:03:44 Well, as Laura Jack shared with us, the first steps are to acknowledge and validate the feelings. As she said, find a way to express instead of repressing or suppressing. So, question for you how do you usually acknowledge your own feelings? I know some women like to journal in order to just get out on paper what they're feeling without judgment. Or you may want to find a trusted friend, one who you know will just listen and not make you feel bad for having these feelings when something good just happened to you.

00:04:23 Maybe someone who has gone through a similar transition or a coach or a therapist. But whatever you do, get the feelings out and expressed and make them obvious to yourself so you know what you're dealing with once you acknowledge them, it may be helpful to think about how every experience of growth, of gaining something new, involves letting something else go. I'm reminded of a book that I used to read to my daughter and son, the Oak Tree Inside of the Acorn by Max Lucado. It's about this little baby acorn that is all warm and cozy, attached to the mama tree. But eventually a swift wind comes along and knocks this acorn right off of the tree.

00:05:14 The acorn has to let go of his big, strong mother tree, but it is by letting go and going through lots of different, interesting, funny phases of growth that he becomes a beautiful oak tree that provides a young girl a place to swing, climb, and rest. In other words, he realizes his potential. So remember, these somewhat painful experiences you are going through are a step toward you realizing your potential of finding the way to contribute the greatness that is already inside of you. Now, before we move on, just a quick note about feeling comfortable in your knowledge and competence. One of those familiar patterns we said that you may be grieving the loss of.

00:06:03 I want you to remember that you were selected for this role. You have the skills and knowledge that the people who were deciding who should go in this role saw a need for. But that doesn't mean you don't need to keep developing your skills so you can feel more comfortable in your knowledge and competence. Acknowledge your strengths and be transparent about them with your team, but also acknowledge what you know you still have to develop. And you may even involve your team by asking them for feedback and accountability.

00:06:41 So after you take a look at what you may be grieving and spend some time becoming more self aware and clear with yourself, it's time to do some perspective taking and think about what your former peers may be grieving and celebrating too. Some of their grief may be the same as yours. Maybe they really like going to happy hour with you and complaining about other people at work. In addition, if maybe you and another peer both applied for the same role, there will be additional grieving. On the other hand, they may be celebrating that they now know their boss very well.

00:07:24 Now, of course, you're not going to know everything that's going on inside of your former peers. And that's where the next step comes in, having that clear and honest conversation. So after getting clear about what's going on inside of you and starting to get clear about what might be going on inside of them, it's important to set up that clear and honest conversation as early as possible. In addition to getting the meeting on the calendar, other preparation is really important. And in fact, many of the steps that we talked about way back in episode 21 for Preparing for difficult conversations apply here too.

00:08:04 Let's go through those tips for what should happen before, during, and after this meeting. So first, before, of course, the first step is that introspection and perspective taking that we just talked about. Second, make sure you have clear goals for the meeting. In other words, what messages, both spoken and unspoken, do you want to leave them with? Maybe you want to leave them with what hasn't changed about your relationship, what has changed, why you value them as part of the team, and also give them the knowledge that you are there to support them and to help them succeed.

00:08:49 In addition to having those clear goals, also spend some time thinking about the facts and stories that you've created about them. We already talked about doing some perspective taking and thinking about what they're thinking. But go a little bit deeper. What do you know for sure and what might you be making up that you really need to verify in the meeting itself? And then finally, in terms of the preparation, make sure you have a plan for handling your emotions.

00:09:22 After all, the conversation may go in a direction that you didn't expect it to, and perhaps some emotions that you didn't expect may come up as well. Now, you can only control your emotions, so focus on that. One way to deal with your emotions is to pause. When you feel something coming up inside of you, just pause and really get curious. Asking questions like, tell me more about that, or could you say that in another way?

00:09:55 Give you the opportunity to both pause and get curious and think about is there something true in what they're saying, even though it might have triggered you? All right. So with that planning, you should be set up well to have an effective meeting. So let's think about what should happen during the meeting. Now again, back to our last episode about difficult conversations.

00:10:20 Episode 21. Remember, I gave you four C's that you can think about during the entire conversation and those four C's are comfort, curiosity, clarity, and continuation. So for comfort, remember that you want to establish and maintain a safe space for open conversation. Be thinking about that throughout the meeting. Now of course, this starts from the work that you've done to inspire trust with your former peers and now those who you lead.

00:10:57 And if you want some tips on that, we did a whole episode about inspiring trust in episode six. Establishing that comfort also comes from making sure that you state the goal of the conversation right up front so everyone knows what to expect. In terms of curiosity, you want to always seek first to understand, ask a lot of questions, or as one of our former guests likes to say, get curious before you get furious. Make sure you understand their story and contrast it with the story that you've already created in your own mind. For clarity, be clear with your points.

00:11:39 Even if you're conflict, avoidant. Remember, clear is kind. Have clear goals. And if you want to learn a little bit more about being clear about what you're sharing, check out episode nine where we talked about finding your leadership voice and finally continuation. Make sure this just isn't a one and done plan for how you can continue the conversation with your former peer.

00:12:07 Afterwards, make sure you have a plan for keeping the channels of communication open after the meeting. So when you have those four overarching C's of comfort, curiosity, clarity, and continuation, you then can get into the specifics of the agenda. So here are some ideas for agenda items. Remember, we talked about stating the goal up front. So I would suggest that the first agenda item is you sharing why you called the meeting.

00:12:40 Acknowledge the awkwardness and communicate that you're committed to helping them and the team grow and succeed. Then maybe ask how they are feeling, what are some of their concerns. Use this as an opportunity to verify if the perspective taken you did about what they were grieving and celebrating was accurate. Then you may want to talk about what hasn't changed. Some of those items could include commitment to them, your support of them, and the fact that you're all on the same team working toward goals together.

00:13:15 Talking about what hasn't changed will help give everyone a feeling of stability and then have an open and honest discussion about what has changed. Maybe some items that have changed are that you can't necessarily share everything you know with them. That you also are going to have to be respectful of the role that you have and how that comes with a certain level of professionalism that you need to maintain. One other thing that has definitely changed is that you're now responsible for supporting them in being the best performer they can be. That includes performance conversations and giving them really clear feedback and evaluating their work, but also acknowledge that what has changed is that you now have formal responsibility for advocating for them with your current peers and leaders.

00:14:14 After you've talked about what hasn't changed and what has changed, it's great to have a joint conversation about what your shared goals are. What do you both care about most in this relationship? And then finally, how will you accomplish those goals through accountability, feedback and boundaries. Now that all comes together in perhaps doing a little bit of forward thinking and think what feelings or situations might test the boundaries that you need to set in order to work effectively together. For example, some of those boundaries might be what can they expect from you when they might fall back into their old pattern of griping about someone else at work?

00:15:07 How will you deal with that? Also, a boundary might be what will you not be doing in social situations. It might be worth talking about boundaries in terms of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for them to come to you with. And then, as I mentioned, think through what situations might test some of these boundaries. Maybe if you're all really stressed, you might fall right back into your natural tendency.

00:15:37 But how can you work together to hold each other accountable to these boundaries in the future? Then finally, after the meeting, it's all about consistency and follow through. That last part of the conversation where you were talking about what you both cared about most in the relationship and your shared goals for the future of the relationship and how you will accomplish those through accountability, feedback and boundaries that needs to be carried forward. And any agreements that you made in terms of how you were going to act with each other and how you were going to hold each other accountable and how you were going to give them feedback and get feedback from them, you need to put that into practice and be consistent with that. If you can do that, you will build trust in this new relationship quickly and effectively.

00:16:36 Now, I know I said you need to have this conversation as soon as possible, but it's really never too late to have this conversation. So even if you've been in role for a while and you did move from a place where you were a peer to a leader, but you have been noticing troubles in terms of how you are relating with each other, it's a good sign. It's time to have this conversation. Planning for and having this conversation will increase trust and your confidence moving forward. Although it won't be comfortable at first, by remembering that clear is kind and gaining clarity about what you're experiencing, what your former peers are experiencing, and having a clear and honest conversation you can navigate this situation successfully.

00:17:27 Remember to approach the situation with empathy and respect for your former peer and you'll be well on your way to building a positive and productive working relationship.

And until next time, lead with this quote in mind: "The pain you feel today is the strength you'll feel tomorrow. For every challenge encountered, there is opportunity for growth."


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