Monday, April 3, 2006

Followers:Friends or Front Line?

You used to be their buddy and now you’re their boss. You used to willingly join them for drinks after work and now you are worrying over writing their performance reviews. When you get promoted into leadership, what happens to those friendships that you used to have with your colleagues? Some organizations will tell you that friendship is impossible, even prohibited. Contagious Leaders can and should be friends with those they lead; it is merely the definition of “friends” that we may benefit from clarifying.
Contagious Leadership was written in part because of the frequent occasions sited in Corporate America in which a person was seen to be a “great widget maker” and so a manager said “Oh wow you would make a great widget maker manager!” and proceeded to promote this front line person. Let’s reserve conversation about the fact that these two positions vary widely in skill sets, as well as, skill in one does not correlate to skill in another, for another newsletter and focus simply on what this does to the person who becomes the new manager.
If you were my friend one day and then not my friend the next, I might begin to think “you believed you were too good to talk to me” unless of course, you talked to me first. Yet, how many new managers feel comfortable having that conversation or have TIME to have it while learning the new job in a baptism by fire modality.
Let’s face it; a new promotion is not always easy on the friend circle unless you have one supportive group of friends. What is more often the case is a series of resentments, “I should’ve gotten that job”, backbiting, or even sabotage, so here’s what you do. When you are promoted to a new leadership position:
• Ask your promoting leader when you can tell the team the news
• Ask permission to alert them before the news goes public
• Openly discuss what is going on, when it will be effective and what will change; address the issues of negativity
• Save your expectations and new directions for meeting number two and give them a chance to get adjusted to the new information.
• Try to hold this meeting on a Friday, or end of shift, so that those with issues have a chance to think on it for a couple of days.
• Let them know the company’s policy on being friends and how you are planning to handle any friendship changes that may occur.

Realize for yourself that this is a process and that some will respond better than others. Realize also that if you abandon those that you used to be friends with that are now reporting to you and still remaining members of the front line that you may face more problems than a leader hired in from the outside with no history. You can do it. You can have it all if you employ mutual courtesy, respect, and professionalism.
The people Contagious Leaders lead are in fact, just that, PEOPLE and if you treat them as such, you may have a gift for appreciating where they are and what they experience, far more than someone who hasn’t “been there, done that”. That could work in your favor and help you to build one phenomenal team of productive followers who enjoy working with you. Followers are not limited to being friends OR front line and can be both.

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