Struggles of emerging to lead (Part 1)

Congratulations are most definitely due when you are given a promotion. Gone are the days of being at the beck and call of your boss. You are the boss. Well, almost. 

You are at least one rung up from where you’ll were. There will always be another boss right? 

But it means you have finally left behind you some of the most annoying things about being one of the team. You are now leading that very team. Problem is that’s exactly where the trouble can start.  


In this post, we’ll look at why emerging from a team to become the leader of that same team can create new difficulties for you in the short and longer term. We’ll also get into what you can do about reducing the impacts of challenges to your ability to lead the team effectively. 

Don't be such a sore loser … 

One of the key challenges you may well face, as you take your first steps into leading your team, is the reaction that you will get from people in the team who also went for the same job.

Whilst the more mature of your competitors will be able to swallow their pride, mend their wounded egos and get back to work quickly (and they should be recognised by you for doing so) there will be others who react quite differently. There can be the silent but fuming type. They’ll tell you all is ‘fine’ but just under the surface a little, is a deeply held range of feelings - resentment, disappointment, anger and others - that can become evident when they are stressed or when you fail. Then there is the assassin: they’ll be the nice to your face but toxic when discussing your leadership with other members of the team. Finally, there are those who will overtly seek to undermine your leadership. They’ll challenge your authority - often publicly, in meetings for example.

It’s naive to think that you’ll convert your detractors to your most strident supporters but you certainly cannot lead effectively if you allow them to continue overtly or subtly to undermine your leadership or remain ‘stuck’ with their feelings. You need to confront the behaviour. Not easy but essential. How you challenge these people is perhaps less important than the fact that you do challenge them.

Your best bet in relation to challenging them effectively is certainly not to do so in an accusing way. They are human beings after all; their reaction to not getting a job they really wanted is an understandable response. You can challenge them best and help them move on by seeking ways for you and them to understand how they are feeling. 

You can fall into a trap of assuming the seat of their frustratio is because they are feeling annoyed that you got the leadership and they did not. In my experience however, there are a myriad of other reasons why people can respond poorly to be overlooked for a promotion: that include:

1. It’s not about you I’m disappointed in myself for not being good enough

2. I can’t see a way of progressing - being overlooked is becoming a pattern

3. I failed to work hard enough under the previous boss and let myself down

4. I’ve already spent the money (at least in my head) I thought was going to get when I won promotion

5. I’ve got to get used to a new boss/relationship and I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy that … it may mean I need to change jobs … etc etc etc

My point is that there are a wide range of reactions you might get and you cannot/should not try to guess. You would be really well served if you hold a grown up conversation with each member of your team, soon after you start (like …  in Week 1 … no, seriously!) to explore their view of you as a leader - their leader. The conversation can cover how your new direct reports see the new reality they are facing i.e. having you as their new leader. More importantly this being useful for you perhaps, is that you will be serving your new direct reports really well. You are being both supportive and clear. You are beginning to establish the new parameters of the relationship and setting some shared expectations. 

Here is a range of questions that you might want to ask all the members your new-old team: 

a. What are you most concerned about now I am in this role? 

b. What will help me, to help you, overcome those concerns? 

c. What is the best way for me to help you deliver consistently great results? 

d. (Within reason) What should I avoid doing that is going to make it difficult for you  to do great work every day? 

e. What do I need to be aware of in relation to what you want to do next in your career? 

Here's the kicker: you've asked the questions, so you need to be open to and grateful for the responses you get back. Don't be defensive. Don't interrupt. Don't overlay. Don't offer knee-jerk suggestions about what you are going to do. Absorb it all. Reassure. Be grateful for their openness and honesty. Contemplate. Plan. Share. 

Performance Edge Partners Ltd have a keen interest in helping organisations develop the very best leaders in order that they can add value by engaging fully in leading the organisation to the best performance possible. If you want to know more about what we do, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us here

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John Lewis
Little Hearts Matter