When people first take up the reins of leadership in their organizations, a number of changes take place. Among them is a change in how the leader relates to those who report to him or her. I call this the Relationship Shift…not very original but there it is.
For instance, as individual contributors, we often develop relationships with our co-workers, many of whom may actually become our friends. We tend to pick and choose the people with whom we become close. We become involved in their lives. They become involved in ours. And the balance of power between us tends to remain reasonably level.
Promotion to a leadership role changes all that. In fact, a promotion to a leadership role demands the establishment of a professional distance between the leader and those who work under his or her supervision if it is going to be effective.
If you are a new leader, this does not mean that you must isolate yourself from the people who work with you, far from it. It does mean though that the relationships you develop must transcend your personal feelings about the people in your work group and expand to include an impartiality that allows you to make appropriate decisions and get the work done.
This shift in relationships is not a one-way street. With promotion to a leadership role comes a change in the balance of power. People who were once peers become, (organizationally speaking), subordinates and that means that you will have some influence over areas of their working life that you previously did not. They will be looking for evidence that they can trust you with that. And they will expect you to be fair about it. So, you may not be invited to lunch as you once were. And if you are, you should consider the wisdom of accepting.
The up side to this (and there’s always an up-side) is that as a boss, you will have opportunities to build new relationships with not only those who work for you but with a new set of peers. One of the crucial roles of a leader is to build relationships across a variety of lines of work. This allows for easier communication, collaboration between and among people and an opportunity to learn new things from a variety of perspectives. And that’s a good thing.
So while you may initially feel the loss of your previous working relationships, there is a bigger world out there for you to explore.
In 1989, a movie was made about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a Civil War regiment comprised of all African American men. The movie is called Glory, a wonderful, often heart wrenching, sometimes graphic film. It is also the story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his experience in making a significant relationship shift of his own.
Here’s a clip.
So, when you first became a leader, how did your relationships change? What did you have to get used to? What surprised you? If you are a leadership veteran, what advice would you give new leaders?
If you looked at the clip, what did you notice about the relationship between Colonel Shaw and his second in command? Between Colonel Shaw and his friend Thomas?
What else did you see?