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Don’t strike out when called upon to manage your former peers

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John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership-development consultant, executive coach, author and speaker. In 2010, Top Leadership Gurus named Baldoni one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. His latest book is “Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up,” available at

New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter recently learned a lesson that all people in leadership learn soon enough: You cannot always be friends with those you lead.

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada took himself out of the lineup one day. Posada was not hurt; he was miffed that he was batting ninth, a position he seemed to think was beneath him, despite a woeful slump. Posada has since apologized but, as reported in The New York Times, Jeter said Posada did nothing wrong. General Manager Brian Cashman did not agree and had a subsequent conversation with Jeter about the situation.

Calling out Jeter, who has been nothing but a class act for the Yankees for nearly 17 seasons, might ruffle some fans, but Cashman did what was necessary. Jeter cannot stick up for a friend who is not doing his part to help the team win.

The lesson for the rest of us who don’t play Major League Baseball is that leaders, more often than not, need to divorce themselves from personal feelings when it comes to making tough decisions about people. Often, this occurs when a manager is called upon to manage former peers. Friendship can be strained when suddenly the guy who used to be your workplace pal is telling you what to do. It is even harder when you thought you should have been promoted.

So what advice do I give for those who have to manage former peers?

Address the elephant in the room. Make it clear to everyone that you are the boss. You once were a peer, but as the person in charge, you are responsible for getting results; so, too, are your direct reports.  Success will come only if you and your team collaborate. If you got the job over a rival, have a one-on-one conversation with the person and affirm how much you need that person’s contributions. It will not be easy, but you, as the manager, must make the first move.

Invite feedback. Your leadership should be based on give and take, especially at first. Advise colleagues that you want their input as well. Soliciting it does not mean you must act on it, but it does commit you to listen to what colleagues have to say. Also, invite your peers to give feedback on your performance. It might be awkward at first, but it can open the door to greater understanding.

Stay vigilant. Being in charge is never easy, and doubly so when you are managing people with whom you used to pal around. Do not expect to be invited to post-work gatherings. It might occur, but if it does not, be prepared. Recall how you and your colleagues might have complained about the boss. Well, now you are the boss. Your presence might be uncomfortable.

When a manager is in charge of former peers, it does not mean he or she must stop being friendly. It simply means the peer-to-peer relationship forged in the workplace is over. It is time to develop a new professional relationship. A friendship might be strained, but if it is true friendship, it will not only survive but also strengthen.

Many of those passed over for promotion realize they might not be best for the position and come to terms with it. There might be initial friction, but often it dissipates, especially if the executive affirms the value of the former peer.

Leadership is not about friendship; it is about doing what is right for the team.