You’ve just been promoted to management. You are now officially in charge of a team of your prior peers, many of whom you consider friends. How do you handle it? This is a tough transition, however these 6 keys can help ease the discomfort:

  1. First make the tough call – Loyalty to work has to come before loyalty to your friend–if it can’t, you shouldn’t be leading that individual. Request to be demoted or see if that individual can be on another team–and choose now, before you’re forced to make that call. (Could you sit through Wednesday night dinner at your friend’s home knowing s/he is being let go on Friday?) Status inequality can be hard on friendships.

  1. Set clear boundaries and expectations
  • Do not discuss work outside of work
  • Do not discuss personal situations/issues at work, unless impacts performance
  • Make personal plans on personal time
  • Specify your role when offering advice – “Speaking as your manager,” “Speaking as your friend”
  • Don’t ask at work, “Do it for me because we’re friends.”
  • When your friend isn’t adhering to the work/personal boundaries – “That’s good to know, can you tell me more when… we’re at work/after work”
  • NEVER share other employees’ information with a friend
  • NEVER vent to a friend who is an employee about work
  • Remember you’re both at work to accomplish work; the friendship can’t impede the work
  1. Be rational, fair and objective.
  • Treat your friend the same as you would anyone else on your team while at work.
  • Favoritism, special treatment, special exceptions, protection or consideration creates resentment and alienates others. You will lose credibility as a leader and cause disunity within the team.
  • Preemptively clarify how important being objective and fair is to your friend.
  • Ask yourself, would you behave the same way if you didn’t have a personal history with this individual?
  • Management should not vary based on chemistry or personality
  1. Remember: true friends won’t want you to compromise your work responsibilities; they’ll want you to succeed. They won’t put you in a situation where you’ll be forced to choose between friendship and work.
  2. Don’t confuse being liked with being trusted and respected. 
  3. And lastly remember, especially if you’re new to management, that being the manager doesn’t mean you now have power and control. It means you’re responsible for supporting the success of every single individual on your team and at the end of the day, you’re there to guide, support and serve your team.

For a deeper dive into handling a variety of tricky leadership and management issues, read Culture Works. Also available on Amazon.