Q: I’m taking a new position, and one of my team had applied for my job. How do I establish a good working relationship with him, especially if he’s disgruntled?
A: Go in with an open mind and treat him with respect; however, set limits and expect good behavior in return.
The inner game
There is a lot going on when you start a new role, so do all you can to stay grounded and steady. Start by getting centered, taking some deep breaths and letting any anxiety slip away. Take note of this process, and plan to start each workday in the same way so that you’ll be setting yourself up for an easier transition.
You may have been in this position before, either as the one promoted or the one passed over. What have you learned from this experience? Or what have you witnessed in the past from others? There are very good ways to handle the situation, but also some very poor examples out there.
Consider it also from his perspective. It’s disappointing to stay in the same role when you’re hoping for a promotion, so enter the situation with some compassion for him. Also plan to learn about the strengths he brings that made him a viable candidate for the role. Recognize, too, that he may consider you a rival and not have come to terms with the decision.
In addition to dealing with this specific issue, walk in the door with a plan for learning about your new team and establishing yourself as leader so that your handling of him is consistent with your overall approach.
The outer game
As part of your “getting to know you” stage, spend one-on-one time with each team member. For each, you’ll want to learn about their vision for themselves in their work, the strengths they bring, the characteristics they like in a manager, etc. In his case, you’ll also want to acknowledge that he had pursued the role you now hold. Be open that he may be disappointed but that you hope to have a successful working relationship. Draw him out about his vision for the team’s direction and look for ways that your visions are aligned. Your best case scenario is to enlist his support in moving the team forward.
As you move forward, pay attention to his adaptation to your management. In particular, notice if he is undermining your direction or otherwise expressing dissatisfaction with your leadership. Letting this go could be very damaging to team morale, and will also send a clue to others about your strength as a leader. Privately, but immediately, call him on any moves of this type, and be firm about the need to be respectful.
At the worst, you may need to have a talk with him about whether the team is still a fit for him; involve your boss and HR as needed.
On the other hand, if all is going well, be sure to continue to positively reinforce your appreciation of him as a team member.
The last word
Sometimes your rival for a leadership role can become one of your greatest assets; it just takes communication and respect.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.