I recently recommended a former colleague for a job in my company. Months have gone by since then, and our company has restructured. The job she applied for was recently offered to her, and she has accepted. When I made the recommendation, she would have been joining a different department so would have reported to someone else. Since then, we have restructured and now she is going to report to me.
When I worked with her ten years ago, she was senior to me. She is at least fifteen years older and I was just getting started. She has remained at the same level. I know this because she was vocal about how she didn’t want to trade her family life for work advancement. I, on the other hand, have basically done that because I am super ambitious.
I recommended her because I know she is smart and competent, but it never crossed my mind that I would be her boss. God knows I need the help, so I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. But I am really worried and not sure how to handle the weirdness of this.
What would you recommend?
The Junior Is Now the Boss
Dear The Junior Is Now the Boss,
You’re right. Weird indeed. But not unheard of. You don’t have to apologize for your ambition or your success, so don’t do that. But you don’t have to lord it over anyone either. Just the fact that you are concerned about the potential awkwardness of the situation makes me suspect that you wouldn’t. You both made choices, and that’s okay.
I think the only way to approach the situation is to initiate a conversation about it. Be honest about how you feel and encourage her to be honest about how she feels. You should be ready to share your desire to help her be as successful as possible in her new job and invite her ideas about how you can do that.
Help her understand the culture of this company and specifically how it might be different from where she came from. Make sure she fully grasps her job responsibilities, how to prioritize, and when to escalate when she is unsure. She obviously brings a lot of solid experience—so you can assess together what skills you think might be transferable and what might be new to her.
If you aren’t familiar with our SLII® Model, which will help you partner with your former colleague and give her what she needs when she needs it, you can find a handy e-book here. This will make it easy for you to let her fly in the areas that make sense and offer the right mix of direction and support in areas where she may need to find her feet.
The last thing you want is an elephant in the room that you both tiptoe around. Get all the cards out on the table, show respect for her experience and skills, and you will be fine.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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