How to Get Elected Boss

Being promoted to manager of your team is just the first step in leading it

I was just promoted and will now become the manager of the team I once belonged to. Any advice on how to make a successful transition? -- Tim Purkis, Folsom, Calif.

Yes, start campaigning. The higher-ups have just appointed you boss. Congratulations. Now you need to go out and get elected by your former peers.

The transition from peer to manager is one of the most delicate and complicated organizational situations you will ever experience. For months, or even years, you have been in the trenches with your co-workers as a friend, confidant, and (probably) fellow grouser. You've heard secrets and told a few. You know about every little feud and grudge. You've sat around in airport waiting rooms and at weekend barbecues and ranked everyone else on the team. You've pontificated about who would go, who would stay, and generally what you would do if you ran the group. And now you do.

Surely, some of your former peers are cheering your promotion and are eager to fall in line. That will feel good, but don't let their support lead you to do something disastrous -- namely, gallop into town with guns blazing.

Why? Because just as surely as some are cheering, others are uncomfortable with your promotion. A couple may have thought they deserved the job themselves. So they're feeling anything from hurt to bitter. Still others will simply have some level of anxiety about your going from "one of us" to "one of them." Either way, these former peers are in a holding pattern now, checking you out.

Which is why you need to start the campaign to win them over by creating an atmosphere of stability and cohesion where sound judgments about the future can be made -- by everyone. Look, the last thing you want in your new role is an exodus or even low-level disgruntlement. You want people to settle down and function. The reason is straightforward enough. When and if there are changes down the road, you want to make them on your terms. You want a team of engaged supporters who buy in to your vision, not the resistance and nattering of a confused or chaotic crew.

But here's the rub: You have to campaign without compromising your new authority. That's right. You have to run for office while holding office. It's a critical component in moving from peer to manager, and all effective managers go through it, often several times in their careers.

Getting this transition right is all about timing. Your kinder, gentler election drive can't last forever. Give it three months. Six at most. If you haven't won over the skeptics by then, you never will. In fact, after a certain point, the softer you are, the less effective you will become. And you'll be fighting battles that do nothing but wear you down. Save your energy for bigger things and begin the process of moving out steadfast resisters and bringing in people who accept the changes that you and your core of supporters deem necessary.

Fortunately, the transition period doesn't last forever, and if you handle it right -- with a campaign and not chaos -- you'll be in a position to do what's best for the organization and yourself: lead from strength.

After a successful career, I am getting to the point where my grandchildren are turning to me for advice about career paths for themselves. What would you tell them? -- Bill Gutzwiller, Milwaukee

Every era has its "next big thing." In the '70s, college kids were pressed to study geology and capitalize on opportunities in oil and gas. In the '80s, investment banking and consulting were the gold mines. In the '90s, the mantra was: "Go Internet, young man." All in all, not bad advice. The oil and gas industries continue to flourish. Investment banking and consulting have made fortunes for a lot of people. And the Net, after a rough patch, is strong and getting stronger.

Today, all arrows point toward biotech, nanotech, info tech, and their convergence. That's where the growth and greatest excitement likely will be over the next decades.

But whenever we get this question, a friend of ours comes to mind. She was encouraged to attend (she would say "shoved into") medical school by her parents. At the time, becoming a doctor was like winning the lottery, but with more respect attached. So as her parents cheered, she soldiered on.

Fast forward to the present. Our friend is taking photographs for a living -- joyfully, we might add. At 45, she ditched her career as a neurologist with the words: "Life is too short to spend every day doing something you don't love." It took our friend 20 years to learn that simple truth. It would be quite a gift to save your grandchildren the time.

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