Jessica Powell, the former Google vice president who wrote The Big Disruption and told you how to quit your job, is here to answer your common but tricky work questions. Check back every other week for more management advice with a tech inflection.
I just started managing someone who used to be my peer and it’s awkward. I’m trying to act like everything’s normal, but I think they resent that I’m now their manager. What should I do?
Congrats on your promotion! That secret sense of superiority you’ve long harbored has now been validated by your company! Now you get to spend your days hiding in a big office and never interacting with anyone!
Joking aside, I get it. This is awkward, particularly if you were friends with your former peer. But in my experience, the biggest mistake newly minted managers make is trying to pretend that nothing has changed.
As a manager, I have screwed this up a number of times. One time I was so worried about my former peer’s reaction to my new boss-dom that, in our first meeting, I told her she was so good at her job that I was going to spend less time with her than my other employees. (I said it a bit better than that, but that’s basically what I said.) My intent was to make her feel comfortable with the new arrangement and convey that she was so competent that she didn’t need much management. She read our interaction totally differently. She told me years later that what she heard was: “You and your work don’t matter as much, so I’m not going to pay as much attention to you.” Oops.
Here’s another example: A guy on my team was a great individual contributor and highly collaborative. Making him a manager seemed like an obvious next step. But he was so committed to showing his former peers that he was still “one of them,” that he acted too much like he was still their peer. If someone went to him with a problem, he would joke about it — or perhaps empathize, but not actually focus on trying to remove the roadblock that had brought them into their boss’s office. Another time he complained about someone else in the department — which would…