A friend of mine (let’s call her Jane) was recently given a promotion at work. Jane was a teacher and now, while maintaining her teaching duties, she has taken on an administrative role at the school. Before her promotion, Jane was universally liked by both her colleagues and supervisors. She socialized with many of them outside of work and her easy-going personality combined with her strong work ethic meant that nobody could find anything about Jane to dislike.
Part of the reason for Jane’s popularity however was the fact that her position within the school allowed her to fly under the radar. She prepared her classes and served as the assistant coach on some sports teams. When people were annoyed with the way the school was run or the decision of a supervisor, they commiserated with Jane.
When Jane was promoted her colleagues were genuinely happy for her. They knew she had worked hard to attain it and they were pleased that somebody they trusted would be in this role. Within a few weeks of her new role however, Jane started to realize that this good feeling would not last forever. She was learning that some of the things her predecessors had done that had annoyed Jane and her co-workers were actually necessary evils and that she was not going to be able to avoid them.
To compound this, it also began to dawn on Jane that some of the information she acquired in her new role could not be shared with her former colleagues in all cases meaning that she could not always fully explain the reasons behind her unpopular decisions. For example, Jane learned that the real reason a former colleague resigned last year was not, as he stated, because the administration was unreasonable, but because he was forced out after the school found out he had lied on his resume. She also learned that the reason she and her fellow teachers were required to tolerate the bad behavior of a certain young student was because his parents endowed several critical scholarships. While her coworkers may have understood that the first instance involved legitimate issues of confidentiality, Jane worried that they would not be happy to learn either piece of news. In short, Jane realized that it was going to be a lot harder to be liked in her new position.
How then should Jane handle this situation? She has already built relationships with the people she supervises, she understands their values and the values of the organization, and she has the skills to tackle the tasks she has been assigned. In many ways Jane is an excellent manager. Part of the solution will simply be to let some time pass and have patience with the awkwardness of the transition. Immediately after a promotion, Jane’s co-workers will still think of her as one of them. Therefore it would be seen as almost a betrayal to keep certain information a secret or make a decision that doesn’t have an obvious benefit for them. As time passes however, Jane’s co-workers will start to have the same expectations of her that they have of the other school administrators.
The other part of the solution is for Jane to retain her perspective. So much of the unfairness that people complain about in the workplace stems from the inability of supervisors to see things from the perspective of their employees. This is one of the reasons that organizations benefit from promoting from within because new supervisors like Jane are in a much better position to know what effect their decisions will have and which complaints are valid. This benefit only survives however, if newly promoted supervisors do not lose sight of the way they viewed things as an employee.
Do you have any other tips for Jane on how to transition to this supervisory role?