Guest post from Chip Espinoza:
Two of the top challenges young professionals report facing while making the transition into management is a change in relational dynamics with former peers at work and the fear of disappointing the boss who promoted them. One young woman shared her distress when one of her best friends at work unfriended her on Facebook. The newly minted manager asked her friend, “Why the unfriend?” She replied, “You are the boss now, and I don’t want you creeping on my Facebook.” It is not uncommon for there to be a bit of a cold spell while the relationship with a peer goes through redefinition.
At first glance, how your peers see you and what your manager thinks about you are unrelated, but being overly concerned with your manager’s estimation of you may inhibit your ability to effectively lead your peers and the development of your own leadership perspective.
If you find yourself pre-occupied or even worried about what your boss thinks of you, give yourself a break. One of the reasons you made it to management is because you cared and your boss saw something in you that she did not see in your peers or others. That something is usually a comfort level with building a relationship with authority figures or appearing to be more mature than your peers. Perhaps you have heard your manager say things like, “You are different from other Millennials” or “You are a throwback.” The term throwback refers to someone who appears to be from a generation older than one’s own. It could be flattering, but be aware, it could also set you up to be perceived as someone you are not. It is a good thing to want your boss to be pleased with you. However, the danger comes when you become more concerned with the approval of your boss than being your own person or exercising your own voice. The slang behavioral diagnosis for those who quickly adapt what they think, say, and do in an effort to please their manager is brown nose—the kiss of death for building credibility with peers and exerting one’s own voice.
The first step to overcoming the desire to please your boss is to accept there will come a day when you disappoint him or her—not necessarily because you have done something wrong, but because you did something different from what they would do. It is inevitable! Even the best of mentor/mentoree relationships end in conflict. It is a right of passage that eventually results in reconciliation and mutual respect. As an example, my mentor primarily consulted nonprofit organizations, and when I started working with major corporations, he was disappointed. It hurt me to let him down, but I had to pursue my own path even though it was emotionally difficult. Before he died, he affirmed me for having the desire to help all kinds of organizations with generational diversity and valued my work.
The tension you may experience with your manager is often the result of leading from your own perspective. Not unlike what you experience with peers, your personal growth triggers a redefinition of the relationship with your boss. When you understand the relational dynamic that is taking place, there is no need to be defensive, make excuses, or villainize. No need to fret. It is a sign of a new phase of your leadership development. One of the first stages of leadership development is to develop your own perspective.
Which leads to the second step of overcoming the need to please your boss—develop your own leadership perspective. What do you believe to be true? What are you convinced of? What are you willing to stand for? How would you want to be managed? The young professionals in research my coauthor Joel Schwarzbart and I have conducted talk about feeling torn between the way they wanted to manage and the way they thought their boss wanted them to manage. It was like having their boss on one shoulder and their preferred “me” on the other. The dialogue in their heads between the two created a migraine. The bipolarization also led to inconsistency in leader behavior.
Having a perspective can be quite powerful. A perspective can be as simple as, “Everyone deserves a second chance.” Such a perspective has probably salvaged many a career. It is not true in every situation, but helpful in most. Not having your own perspective sets you up for being perceived as inauthentic and a mini-me of your boss. Inauthenticity is the kiss of death for a young manager. Your peers will not respect you, and ultimately your boss will be disappointed anyway.
The third step is to understand that when a peer says you have changed for the worse or a manager says you are not ready for the next level, it may be a function of them not wanting their relationship with you to change. That is not a bad thing. You have to keep it in perspective. It is not our enemies who hold us back from achieving our full potential—it is usually those who care about us the most. When you grow, advance, and seek new opportunities, it threatens relationships. If you get that, it will save you sleepless nights, the need to defend yourself, and self-doubt. Embrace all kinds of feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly—just have your own perspective.
Chip Espinoza is the author, along with Joel Schwarzbart, of Millennials Who Manage: How to Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become a Great Leader. He is also the author of Managing the Millennials. Espinoza is the Academic Director of Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Leadership at Concordia University Irvine.