I know the title is a giveaway, but I will still try 🙂
When was the last time you sulked at work? Sad increment, overlooked for promotion, favorite boss leaving, pet hate getting a dream job with a competitor? But I am sure the one that always makes you feel the word “Sulk” is when your peer becomes your boss. I think in a long career journey we have to go through this either by being on the receiving end as a reportee or the lucky one as a boss, if the karma of life has to be completed, both can happen to you. Now I am sure to see some comments which will say grow up, what’s the harm of reporting to our peer, there is something to learn from everybody and things like that. I care less about the professional correctness of working with our peer, I am dwelling on the feelings we go through; the reactions that we tend to display when we have this change in our life.
I remember when the first time I became a manager, I was trained for about a week in a classroom; role plays and assessments were organized by some of the finest trainers in the industry. I had the profiles of the people who would be reporting into me, the dynamics that could emerge when we work together was discussed too. In a nutshell you can say, I was trained well enough to start as a manager. But the practical situation was a touch different. Out of my 6 reportees, one was my senior and 2 were my peers, means we did some of our trainings, outings, drinks together, 3 of them were campus recruits so I guess they were new to this game, those days most of us used to call the manager “sir”. So here we had this situation where 3 of them called me sir’ and remaining by my name. I guess that was the starting of our “storming” relationship, team meetings used to be battleground of wits, we all indulged in reasonable posturing, me as the boss, my 2 ex-peers ‘used to’ act difficult, my senior was oblivious to any of these cheap thrills and the 3 freshers were having all the fun at our cost. All I can remember is that nothing that we were ashamed of happened then, two decades later all of us are still in touch even though it is just at a Facebook level!
As we climb the hierarchy, this peer play becomes more complicated as we all add to our bloated egos and are less forgiving to ourselves when we have to report to our peers or so called juniors. Many a times we grudgingly accept it if we have no other choice. We more often think it’s a defeat than yet another boss walking into our lives. I remember once one of our bosses moved up the ladder and his position was vacant, all of us were speculating as to who will take that seat, we were all hoping/praying that the organisation gets an external guy for this position, I guess it also stemmed from our “J” feeling that there was a very strong internal contender for the role. We did not want this peer of ours to become our boss, our worry was that he knows too much about us and we will not get a longer rope with him, with an outsider, we felt we can start fresh and our inflated personal pride will be protected.
Sometimes this junior/peer issue gets carried on for life. We were trying to hire one gentleman who was struggling to find a job for almost 9 months, when we finally interviewed him, he checked about his new reporting manager who happened to be a level ‘junior’ (not sure if there is a better term for that) to him in their previous organisation. Though both had changed employers after that and the history was 8 years old, the senior/junior issue had not disappeared. The best part was both of them had not even worked in the same business with their common employer. Needless to say, he joined another employer where he reports to a stranger.
Are there are ways to make this strange situation work than sulking or leaving. Most often they say the solution lies with the supervisory style, I tend to agree. When I landed up in a similar situation the second time my boss advised me, “look, of the 5 people, 4 are senior to you in experience and tenure in the organisation”. He added “go slow”, one thing at a time, give them space, protect their self-esteem, all of them know more than you in this industry, you need them more than they need you, try to be an integrator. Though I felt undermined by his advice, I did follow him as he was right about the people who were part of my team. Not only were they experts in their field, they were responsible about their accountability. I believe my boss had also advised them about the potential dangers in this relationship.
In a nutshell he had told them
- Give him time, don’t judge him on day one
- Respect his role, he has his deliverables cut out, there isn’t time for ego play
- Organisation knows your contributions, don’t feel undermined or insecure
- And the dangerous, anyway, I am always around 🙂
Everything said and done reporting to a junior or peer is an emotionally draining exercise, we take so much work home that our predicament starts hurting even at home. It’s difficult to tell ourselves that somebody came first, got lucky, or was at the right place, right time. It’s always “why me”!