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Peer to Supervisor Transition



In this episode, Ralph and Bill discuss identifying the key takeaways, insights, and concepts that we as leaders want our team members to remember, and perhaps more importantly, how we can help them apply those learnings to deliver positive results for the organization.



Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent podcast, where we discuss leadership, team, and organizational topics and best practices. We like to provide ideas, concepts, and pragmatic experiments to help you develop your potential in your work and your leadership. I’m Bill Berthel.

Ralph Simone: And I’m Ralph Simone.

Bill Berthel: Ralph, today we’re talking about a topic that actually, I think, often comes up for us in our coaching but this has been coming up as a request for us to talk about on a podcast. This is the movement of going from a peer to a supervisor entering leadership, but specifically from being a peer in a group or a team.

Ralph Simone: Yeah, it’s uncomfortable for many people, but it’s really about a relationship change or relationship management.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely. I think most people that are in this space, they are excited about the promotion, they’re excited about the opportunity they’re being provided. But they may be a little apprehensive, a little nervous, maybe even have some concerns about how will the relationships change.

Ralph Simone: I think there’s initial fear, around awkwardness. It’s going to be awkward. How do I maintain my friendship while now becoming this person’s supervisor?

Bill Berthel: Yeah, I think it is awkwardness. Not too long ago, I was coaching a very talented young man. He was a high performer in a somewhat technical role. It was in manufacturing. And he was becoming the shift supervisor. So kind of a classic peer-to-supervisor, peer-to-leadership kind of movement. And he knew all the players. They were mostly male. It was a manufacturing floor, but high-tech manufacturing floor. He had demonstrated all the knowledge and the skills and the ability, had all the aptitude for leadership. Great young man. His greatest concern was the dress code in their organization. Everyone in the leadership role needed to wear, like, a button-down shirt and chinos or slacks. He couldn’t wear jeans and a sweatshirt anymore. And he was so concerned about that disconnect. I found that both are endearing about him and real. Right. Because I think it is about the relationship. He didn’t want any disconnect to happen, and he was simply concerned that dressing differently meant something.

Ralph Simone: Well, and it does, now it doesn’t have to, but I mean, I’m reminded of my days in Catholic school. One of the ways they leveled the playing field is that everyone wore a uniform. And that way there could be no discomfort created by people who had more or less discretionary income to buy clothing. And it was to keep the focus. So I can understand that discomfort.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely.

Ralph Simone: As I was preparing for this podcast, I was trying to think of my own transitions from peer to supervisor. And the one that was fairly challenging, although I think I navigated it reasonably well, was in college when I became an RA resident assistant, and I got placed on a floor with guys that I was friends with, that I was in class with, that we went out socially. Now I was going to be responsible for it. wasn’t exactly maintaining law and order, but let’s just put it that way.

Bill Berthel: Close to that.

Ralph Simone: And so it did create a bit of an awkward dynamic, no question about it.

Bill Berthel: Well, that’s a great example of the concern on how will the relationship change. Here I am in this different position, and I think one of the questions is how friendly can I be now? Can I still maintain a quote unquote friendship with my who were peers or friends now that I’m leading in some capacity? If I’m a supervisor or manager, how does that shift?

Ralph Simone: It was interesting, Bill. I think I navigated that really well because I don’t think I was smart enough to complicate it. And one of the things I did with these guys, I had a meeting at the beginning, I said, look it, I have a role, a new role and responsibility towards all of the, students in this dorm. And I’m getting paid from the college, and so I have to make sure I serve them while still maintaining my relationship with you. And I was really pretty clear. I said, don’t put me in a jackpot situation and everything’s okay, but if I need to decide between you and my job, I’m going to pick the job. One might say that was a little harsh. I’m sure I didn’t say it that directly, but I established some new ground rules for how the relationship was going to work. And I actually also was pretty clear on what hat I had on.

Bill Berthel: So the clarity of roles is really important in your story, the both/and approach and attitude. It doesn’t have to be either or. I’m, now the RA, so I can’t be your friend. It doesn’t have to get polarized that way. But you prioritized the clarity of role as well.

Ralph Simone: Absolutely. And I think that polarization is a mistake that many people make. I can no longer be the friend. I can no longer fraternize. I can no longer go to happy hour baloney. It can be the both/and role. Just have clarity around what role you’re in.

Bill Berthel: The role does perhaps draw the lines in slightly different places in some of the relationships. As a new leader, there may be some activities that aren’t wise to take part in any longer. Perhaps the line gets drawn. I’m not going to share specific examples necessarily, but if it borderlines inappropriateness, you need to not be part of that.

Ralph Simone: Perhaps I’m having flashbacks because one of the wings that I was assigned to these guys were brilliant and devious, and they were partiers and I remember I would go out with them, but I’d leave early and they go, Where are you going? I said, I got a job to do, and I cannot be coming back with you guys because I’m not sure how you’re going to behave or what move you’re going to make. And I need to be able to that’s right. Participate in my role as RA back at the dormitory. So that was interesting I managed it fairly adroitly, unless I’m sure my memory is not quite accurate, but I think I did it pretty well.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely.

Bill Berthel: I think that, ties into another, perhaps, point of concern or questions that folks have as they’re making this transition from peer to supervisor. Having a conversation with a friend is probably different than having a conversation with a direct report. And when something must be surfaced, perhaps sometimes we call these pivotal conversations, or we have to have a quote, unquote difficult conversation. How does that happen now? How does that change?

Ralph Simone: Well, what advice should we give people? Because I do think you can get yourself sideways, and I want to be careful about this because I encourage people to be vulnerable. But if you’re too open, if you share all of your frustrations with your boss, you could actually develop the reputation of being a complainer, of being a person difficult to manage, even though you’re just going with them because you feel safe in their presence.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. And I appreciate you sharing that idea of being either that complainer or the squeaky wheel in the group. I think perhaps on the other end of that spectrum could be something like favoritism. So we want to make sure that we’re equitable in facilitating these types of conversations with our direct reports that we’re not showing favoritism and that we are surfacing all pivotal conversations or leaving no missing conversation as the supervisor. We had spoken in a previous podcast about the idea of being a friend and a supervisor. And I think if we look back at that information, we suggested that, a really good friend has those kind of conversations. So let’s ground that in. Perhaps it’s not too different, but the role must be clear, the priorities must be clear, and as a supervisor, we do so equitably across our team.

Ralph Simone: I love those as guidelines. Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t go in with a mindset that you can’t manage it right. And there’s really never been a time when doing the right thing is not the right thing. And so what’s the conversation you would have with this friend? What is the conversation you would have with this person who is now your direct report? And if it’s really a strong friendship, out of respect, you would provide the feedback when and if needed.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. I think it’s something analogous in this space of, being concerned, moving from peer to supervisor, peer to leader, whatever level that is. Because, by the way, I don’t think this is just in that space of I’ve never been in a leadership role. I think as we progress in our leadership development and roles of higher leadership or responsibility open up for us, these same dynamics show up. So we could be a, fairly seasoned manager, and moving up to be a VP or higher in the organization. I think these same dynamics show up. I think you just shared it’s, respect it’s. Those common interests, not the position.

Ralph Simone: Looks like most of my stories are historic. But my days at Cooper’s Library, which is now PwC, I had a peer of mine who became a partner before did, and I reminded him as he made that, ascent, I said, let’s remember the conversations we used to have about the things that frustrated us, and I want to be able to still give you that feedback. I know your role has changed, but if you have the perspective of the people that are affected by some of the decisions of the senior leadership, I think you can make better choices. And then he said, well, recognize that I may not be able to influence all those outcomes the way that we had discussed, but we had that conversation. I actually initiated it because I wanted him to remember the things that frustrated us from some of the leaders who were managing us. And he seemed to respect it. And I think it came from a place of mutual respect.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. Personally, I had a story around a promotion that I received very early in my career, where, while I wasn’t leading a team, I became the, quality manager. I was an army of one in the organization because it was still relatively small, but that provided a platform of significant authority and kind of supervisor leadership responsibilities over the production floor. There were two other folks that went for the same position. And so that dynamic of sometimes we’re promoted in an internal I call it a race for that position. And I think there’s specific navigating skills to consider in that type of situation as well.

Ralph Simone: What did you do? I’m just curious what you did in that situation.

Bill Berthel: so two of the three were pretty easy, conversations. They were happy for me, of course, disappointed that they didn’t get the role. And I had two strong partners. The third was not the third was actually starting to sabotage. Yeah. So, it was a quality manager position, and so it became a little bit more difficult. What created the pivotal point was to align on our common interests. M was to not take the positions but to align on the common interests. This was an individual who deeply cared about what he did. Yes, he was deeply disappointed that he didn’t get the role, but there was an opportunity to convert him back into a partner by really focusing on those interests. And we had the interest of both high-quality production, excelling at our own jobs, and found the way that we could help one another with that.

Ralph Simone: So I really like so, but communication is the cornerstone to making this transition successfully. Seems like that’s critical.

Bill Berthel: And I think timing Ralph, I think giving people the opportunity to have some of their emotional responses is needed. That was not a conversation in day two. It was a conversation, quite honestly, like week five.

Ralph Simone: You’re reminding me of, this is slightly off topic, but related. When I was a supervisor, four minute carrier, it wasn’t my peers that I was managing, it was their fathers.

Bill Berthel: Yeah.

Ralph Simone: I was managing a production line when I was 24, and I would say a half a dozen of the guys that worked on the line were fathers of friends of mine growing up.

Bill Berthel: Yes.

Ralph Simone: people who I used to call Mr. And I still did when I went to their house, but now they work for me and so on in the first name. And that was also awkward. But what helped is communicating that we have different skills and strengths, we have a different role. My job is not to necessarily tell you how to build these air conditioning units.

Bill Berthel: Right.

Ralph Simone: My job is to schedule it’s, to get parts it’s to perhaps balance the line, because that’s what I know how to do. And having those clarifying conversations, up front. But that was awkward. I had to call Mr. Smith. Joe and I had to ask Mr. Smith to move down to the other. And Mr. Smith was kind of a mentor of mine growing up. Right. It was an interesting experience.

Bill Berthel: And not to take anything away from your story, but I bet a lot of our listeners have some similar awkwardness in their organizations. especially I’ve found in our region of central New York, folks are very loyal and they stay with organizations, and their families join organizations, which builds that dynamic. Right. Multi generational or lots of different relationships, brothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, and so forth. I think it’s pretty common.

Ralph Simone: Absolutely. I probably shouldn’t say this, but nepotism is okay as long as we keep it in the family.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, well, so actually that’s another interesting, maybe dilemma or challenge for folks going from peer to supervisor is navigating the kind of organizational awareness, the political landscape, and perhaps in some organizations that includes, family or other personal relationships.

Ralph Simone: I think you said it pretty clearly, the idea of communicating, not having the missing conversation, the mindset that you bring in that you can be both a supervisor and a friend, but having maybe some new operating ground rules on how that new relationship will be navigated. And I think talking about those things sooner rather than later.

Bill Berthel: Right.

Ralph Simone: The longer you wait avoiding a conversation, the more awkward it is, generally speaking. And so we want to put things in play right off the bat.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely.

Bill Berthel: I’m m going to project here a little bit for this next topic, because I found it to be the most difficult aspect of moving into leadership was in one of those situations where you have to discipline, or even worse, terminate one of your friends or ex peers. Now that you’re a leader, it sometimes comes down to that, that’s sometimes the responsibility, of a supervisor or manager is to provide discipline or even worse. And I did. It was actually one of my very first terminations. Was a friend. yeah. You don’t sleep the night before getting to that decision. I’ll be honest, is influenced by the relationship. It’s harder to look at that objectively. Right. You worked with us in this case, it was a guy, you worked with him. You know, his family. All that comes in. Right. We’re not human if we’re not considering that. Sure. To sit down and have that conversation first in the space of human dignity, I have found to be the key. You still see the human in front of you. You do care. You don’t disconnect, you don’t disassociate from that.

Ralph Simone: Good.

Bill Berthel: but you don’t allow that to stop you from having the clear conversation you need to have around the performance and around the decision that might have been made to separate ways.

Ralph Simone: And that may be one of the things that people fear the most, is that they may at some point be confronted with making that decision with somebody who is a friend. And you said something I think is important to share with our listeners. I think we are all subjective. The key to being more objective is to admit that we are subjective absolutely. And own that, and to use that knowledge to help us navigate these tricky situations.

Ralph Simone: So what other advice would we give people who have made or are making this transition from peer to supervisor?

Bill Berthel: So I think you have to own it. I really think that folks are watching you. You’re absolutely on a different stage or platform. And a humble confidence in owning that space is really important. That builds even greater trust, rapport, and confidence with your previous peers. Now, those folks that you are supervising or managing or leading, I think you got to own it.

Ralph Simone: Nice.

Ralph Simone: Anything else we’d offer? Where to start? So if you start with owning it, what else would you do?

Bill Berthel: I think it’s back to that both and mindset. and this might be philosophical, and some of our listeners might disagree that if we subscribe to I’m now your leader and there is no other relationship than that, that’s one way I have found the most successful leaders to subscribe to. We can absolutely still be friendly. We are not just supervisor subordinate. I don’t even like the word subordinate, but, I don’t have a better word for the connection there. But that we’re all interested in some similar outcomes to make that happen.

Ralph Simone: One of the things you’re raising is context matters. And so in the context of the job, in the context of executing, the role is different.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely.

Ralph Simone: Context of friendship, the role is different. It got me thinking about the parent role. The parent child relationship is not always it can be a friendly relationship.

Bill Berthel: Sure.

Ralph Simone: It can be a supervisory relationship, and it can also be, as the parent, someone who’s being guided and taught by the child absolutely in the context matters, in the ability to kind of recognize that shift in context and put on whatever hat is appropriate for that conversation. I remember, in a non admiring way, some of my friends used to say, who’s in charge at your house? And I said, It depends on the situation. There are certain things that I am the supervisor, if you will, but there are many things where we’re simply peer to peer, and others where my children were in the supervisory role, and they thought that was upside down. But that’s because we look at it as either or, as opposed to being able to adjust what role we’re in based on the context of the situation.

Bill Berthel: Ralph I think that’s great parenting advice that does absolutely relate to leadership. I think that is a way to put into practice partnering with those that you lead, looking at the situation and the context. And it’s a way that we can empower our people on our teams to do more, to grow, to learn and develop and build more trust, rapport and psychological safety as that leader. Love that piece.

Ralph Simone: I think it’s, partnering for performance, maybe from a different vantage point, but keeping that in mind, that that’s what we’re interested in, performance.

Bill Berthel: Ralph thank you.

Ralph Simone: Thanks, Bill.

Bill Berthel: And thank you for listening. You can listen to a new podcast two times every month here at Get, Emergent, or wherever you listen to our podcasts, we bring you contemporary leadership topics and ideas. Balanced with what we hope you find are better practices that you can apply directly to your work and your leadership.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. After working at an office for several years I was promoted into a supervisor position. Knowing I would be a supervisor of people that I had long term friendships with I decided to have a meeting to establish our roles and how that changes the dynamics within the office and out. I explained that as their supervisor and during business hours it was business not personal. That when we were spending time together outside of the office it was personal and not business. We had to make sure we kept those separate. and we kept our roles at work professional and clear. Everyone respected me for that, and it made my transition into my new role easier.

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