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Emma Littmoden

The Living Leader


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Living Leader Learnings: How do I get my team to take me seriously?


The challenge

The manager of a production team at an animal feed manufacturer asks:
“Six months ago, I was promoted to a management position within my team, replacing the manager who was also promoted to the level above. Soon after I took up my new position, I noticed that team members were still going to their previous manager if they had issues/questions. This situation has continued ever since.
“I feel as though my team neither take my promotion seriously nor respect me as a manager. One individual in particular becomes quite argumentative when I ask them to do something. The previous team manager seems quite happy to carry on like this. What should I do?”
The solution
The Living Leader replies:
Making the transition from colleague to manager is frequently tricky but, interestingly, we all play a huge part in creating challenges for ourselves.
There is something a little daunting about going home at the end of the week as one of the team and returning on Monday morning as the boss. Such a situation often makes us think that somehow we now need to know everything in order to guide and drive team members’ performance.
The reality is, of course, that we don’t have to know everything. Instead we need to inspire the team to work together and pool their knowledge, experience and creativity in order to be the best that they can be as a unit. 
So the first step is to ask yourself a couple of questions and give yourself really honest answers – might you be creating some of the problems here because you are expecting your team to question your ability? Are you trying to make up for a lack of confidence by attempting to remain ‘one of the team’ rather than stepping up to your new role?
Or could you be trying to make your mark and convince everyone that you are the right person for the job by driving performance, telling people where they need to improve and giving them the benefit of your experience?
Any of these reactions are relatively common, but they aren’t helpful. The reality is that you were considered to be the most suitable person for the post and so it is time to communicate with the team in a way that shows you value their input and talents, while at the same time demonstrating confidence in your own abilities. 
Taking action
It is certainly not going to make any difference just thinking about the situation and wishing it would change. Instead you need to take action. 
Have you spoken with your team about the situation? It may be that they have concerns over how their relationship with you should now work. Often it helps to be upfront, label the elephant in the room and then discuss a joint way forward. 
So bring the team together and acknowledge that it can be an odd situation for everyone to have a former peer promoted to become manager. Understand that it can almost feel like a betrayal because they trusted you as a ‘friend’ and perhaps even shared confidences that they are now worried could make them vulnerable. 
For one or two individuals, there may also be the question of why you rather than them?
But it is only by dealing openly with the situation that you will find out exactly what is going on for them. Until then, there is a tendency to make all sorts of assumptions about yourself and them that are likely to generate behaviour that could make the situation worse. 
So make an opportunity to ask how people feel, explain your understanding that you don’t have all of the answers, but be clear about your vision for developing the team, outlining how you wish to be as their leader and how you believe that you can support them. Then ask what else they need from you in order to be the best that they can be.
Facing up to the situation
Once this discussion has taken place, take time to speak with the argumentative individual on a one-to-one basis. Explain the impact of their behaviour and ask what is driving it. 
Based on their response, be empathetic to their concerns, discuss what you consider their role to be in the team and how you can support them, but also be very clear that disruptive behaviour is not acceptable. 
Also organise a time to sit down with your previous boss and, once again, acknowledge how difficult it might be for them to let go of the team, especially as they obviously had a mutually successful relationship. 
After demonstrating that you understand their situation, explain how you would like to build on everything that they have achieved in order to be the best leader that you can possibly be – and how much you would value their support in this endeavour. 
However, be clear that the current situation is undermining any chance of this occurring at the moment. It is only by facing up to the situation that you are in and asking pertinent questions that it is possible to move beyond assumptions and actually deal with reality.
They may not always be easy discussions to have, but at least they present us with an opportunity to take action and move forward in a more productive manner for everyone.
Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership programme provider, The Living Leader.

One Response

  1. great post

    Communication is definitely necessary in situations like these. It is important that you have an open discussion with your team to clear the air and draw the line under any behaviour which has undermined you. However this doesn’t mean that you can’t maintain relaxed relationships with your team as long as you are ablet to achieve results. 


    David Evans, commercial director at accessplanit, specialist in training administration software and training administration system



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