Managing Your Peers: From Buddy to Boss

September 19, 2014

One day, they are your colleagues and buddies…then, the next day, you’re their boss.  Sticky.

Managing your peers is never easy, and it’s particularly trying for young managers.  How do you go from friend to manager?  How do you draw boundaries or command respect?  Your coworkers and pals may be happy for you, but there also may be some underlying questions about your capabilities.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind when going from peer to manager:

1.  Determine your boundaries.   Right from the start, you must set clear expectations and boundaries when managing your peers.  Millennial managers have a tendency to treat their direct reports like equals and friends, but it’s your job to make clear what is acceptable and what is not.

For example, maybe as peers, everyone would go out for happy hour drinks together. But now as manager, you don’t go or you only stay for one drink.  It’s not that you can’t have fun as a manager, but what happens when your direct reports start talking negatively about the VP after the second drink?  Do you say something or do you let it go?  Either way, you’re not in a spot to do much good for yourself.  If you don’t say anything, your inaction is condoning their behavior.  If you do say something, you’re the snooty manager who can’t relax.  You lose either way, and it’s best not to put yourself in that situation.

2.  Find the balance between power-hungry authoritarian and friendship-preserving push-over.  Admittedly, millennials who are now managing their former peers are in a tough spot, and there are two opposite ends of the spectrum that managers tend to jump towards.  Your goal is to land somewhere in between.  On one hand, some newly-promoted millennials are excited to be in charge!  To show their peers that they are now the leader, they take a more aggressive and commanding management style.  They assert their power and bark out orders to make it clear that they are no longer a peer – they are the BOSS.  This usually breeds contempt and frustration among team members.  Who does this guy think he is? He was doing the same thing I was doing yesterday, and now all of a sudden he has all the answers?

On the other hand, some managers jump to the other end of the spectrum so as not to come off as too bossy or arrogant.  They are so concerned with avoiding hurt feelings or preserving friendships that they never really take on a management role at all.  They get lost in the collaboration and friendship zone and don’t take on leadership responsibilities.

Your goal is to find a comfortable spot in the middle of power-hungry and pushover.  This is where you will be most effective.  Remember, you can be assertive AND nice.  You can be friendly without being a friend.

3.  Pinpoint a mentor.  Is there a manager inside or outside of your organization that you respect and admire?  Use them as an advisor or mentor.  You undoubtedly will have sticky situations arise.  In the past, you likely chatted through workplace concerns with your former peers whom you now manage.  Having a mentor gives you a great, objective view of the situation, and you can play off their years of experience.  They likely have faced very similar challenges and opportunities, and it’s nice to have a sounding board.

Determine your boundaries, find the right balance, and pinpoint a mentor to help you make a successful transition from buddy to boss.

For more from Courtney Templin, read her book Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management.

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About The Author

COURTNEY TEMPLIN is the Chief Operating Officer at JB Training Solutions, and a Millennial herself. She sits on the board of the Chicago Society for Human Resource Management, where she leads the Emerging Leaders Initiative. - See more at:

One Comment »

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    […] Management change can put a strain on relationships in the office. When you are managing your peers, it is vital to act quickly to establish boundaries. (Managing Your Peers: From Buddy to Boss.  […]

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