The Best Leadership Traits for Managing Former Co-Workers

BY Tim Londergan
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Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.” — Oscar Wilde

I’ve had only one occasion in my career where a co-​worker was promoted to a leadership position with authority over his peers. With hindsight, top management should have investigated his leadership traits before making their decision. The change wasn’t a total disaster. However, the move revealed his lack of listening and communication skills and his empathy for the team seemed to vanish. Gradually, our enthusiasm for his promotion disappeared and morale of the department suffered.

Look for leadership traits that improve the boss-​friend dynamic

Doubtless, maintaining friendships with direct reports can be tricky. This is especially true if you “used to be one of them” and are uncomfortable with the boss-​friend dynamic. In general, co-​workers appreciate promotion from within. First, it demonstrates that opportunity is alive and signifies a robust condition for advancement. Second, it can develop a healthy competitive environment that motivates others to perform. Nevertheless, when the power dynamic changes and one person becomes the boss, what leadership traits allow this transition to progress more smoothly?

Assume there will be conflict

According to the Harvard Business Review, “90% of first-​time managers have struggled to navigate the boundaries between being a boss and a friend.” Additionally, “70% have lost friendships since becoming a manager.” Undeniably, when a co-​worker advances to a supervisory position, there will be friction. As a result, company decision-​makers must carefully consider the personality traits of the promotion candidate. Personality assessments provide insight to how a particular candidate may be able to handle a new assignment.

Promote leaders who can sustain the workplace balance

Brit Booth, writing for smartbrief​.com, emphasizes how friendship on the job is a bonus. For example, when teammates feel connected, they quickly build trust and reach higher levels of creativity. Their interdependence forms a strong bond that supports retention for the employer. As managers ponder promotion from the ranks, they need to be cautious of upsetting this delicate balance and consider what leadership traits will advance the team. First, Booth recommends the candidate must be able to set boundaries while maintaining the bonds of friendship. Therefore, a leader with a “work first, personal life second” attitude will keep staffers more engaged. Second, she emphasizes the ability to lead with compassion and have empathy for team members. This ability to meet people where they are is a powerful leadership trait.

Emotionally immature candidates need not apply

Clear communication is the advice given by Benjamin Laker as he penned “Ten Ways to Navigate the Line Between a Boss and a Friend” for forbes​.com. He emphasizes the challenge of defining areas of respect, authority and productivity. He urges new bosses to be open about the power shift and the changing dynamics. Equally important are fairness and consistency in dealing with situations where bias may be a factor. Laker cautions that promotion candidates must have the emotional intelligence to be okay with not being liked. Finally, he advises employers to “hire the right people;” invest in those who can successfully navigate the line between boss and friend.

Advice for handling social media connections

In the Harvard Business Review article, Laker cautions bosses about sharing on social media. Universally, he doesn’t recommend befriending coworkers regardless of the platform. Interestingly, a survey shows that 10% of new bosses unfollowed or unfriended colleagues after being promoted. Similarly, others chose to tighten their privacy settings and isolated their personal network from their job. Employers should consider promotion candidates who exhibit leadership traits that allow them to resist oversharing on social media.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash