I was just promoted to management for the first time in my career. Im now faced with having a difficult conversation with one of my employees who used to be my coworker. How should I approach the situation? What would a seasoned manager do in this situation?

JEFF THOMSON, CMA, CSCA, CAE, IMA president and CEO, says:

“I have faced situations where my peer became either my boss or a member of my direct reporting team. This can be awkward, but demonstrating mutual respect, trust, and an understanding of corporate governance will help create a positive work environment.

The leader must step up to the obligations of leadership, including enabling fierce conversations, being collaborative while being the ultimate decision maker, and creating clarity around the rules of engagement relating to authority, accountability, and agility toward a common purpose.

“The direct report, formerly a peer, must step up to be a courageous follower, respecting the governance around the leader’s authority and accountability while sharing with the leader what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”

DENNIS WHITNEY, CMA, CFM, CAE, senior VP of certification, exams, and content integration at IMA, says:

“The first thing you have to realize when you become a new manager is that you’re now the boss, and this sets up a new dynamic between you and others on the team. You have to remember that the goal is to get the work done, not to be popular. Yes, you want to be an empathic manager and help your team members succeed while enjoying their work, but you have to be clear about your authority. You should listen intently to the team member with the issue, and make sure you understand by using feedback and summarizing the issue. You shouldn’t agree with the person just so he or she will like you. Rather, you need to be objective and evaluate the situation through the prism of what is best for the team and the company.”

LINDA DEVONISH-MILLS, CMA, CPA, CAE, IMA director of technical accounting activities, says:

“I would try to seek out a seasoned manager who has dealt with a similar consultation to determine how to approach the conversation. Although I’m manager, I would try to still come across as if I was the person’s peer and would provide advice under that scenario. I would also consult with HR personnel to determine appropriate approaches to address the issue.

“A seasoned manager would begin the conversation with informing the staff member of positive aspects of their performance to ensure getting their undivided attention. The seasoned manager would also give the staff person an opportunity to share their thoughts to determine if they’re aware of the sensitive issue that the manager wants to address. This may allow for the manager to spend more time with discussing solutions toward the problem instead of addressing the problem, assuming that the manager and employee are on the same page regarding the issue.”

What would you do in this situation? Would you feel pressured to be a peer or step up to become a leader?

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