Your Friend: Your New Boss

Your Friend: Your New Boss

Your best office bud just got promoted. Sure, you want to be happy about the big break, but you've got mixed feelings now that your former confidante is in a plush office and you're still stuck in your yeoman's cube.

Just ask Tori Pinellas of Minneapolis. She and a colleague had forged an us-against-them bond while working at a local television station. "It was nice until our boss got promoted and they moved her into his position, making her my supervisor," Pinellas recalls. "Let me tell you: She became a power-hungry monster."

The change in their relationship hurt. "I cut her some slack at first, realizing it must be awkward to all of a sudden be managing those you were working alongside the day before, but it became very clear, very fast that she either did not feel or was not bothered by that awkwardness," Pinellas says. "Needless to say, I became spiteful and started not to care, listen, respect and ultimately not to implement her decisions."

Fighting Your Feelings

Bob Gunn, coauthor of On the High Wire: How to Survive Being Promoted, says those feelings are normal. "Don't feel guilty if, along with your good feelings for your friend, you also feel a tangle of negative emotion: jealousy, ‘why him/her and not me,' sad or sorry for yourself, 'now who can I share my frustrations with,' anxiety, 'oops, wish I hadn't said those terrible things about the company or the boss's boss.'"

But resist the temptation to wallow in your feelings. Focus instead on getting over them and getting back to work.

"Reflect on what you're thinking," Gunn advises. "Notice your assumptions. Sort out your emotions." Then try to see the new office landscape from the perspective of your old friend -- and new boss.

Attention to Attitude

"No matter how hard your friend (or you) prepared for the new role, promotion brings a host of surprises," he says. "There's a chasm between watching/critiquing the boss and actually being the one responsible for sustaining an environment in which everyone can do good work. Your old friend/new boss has stepped out on a high wire, alone, juggling new problems and pressures, demands and decisions. From that perspective, turn your attention from what your new boss could or should do for you to how you can help him or her succeed –- benefiting you and the company, as well as your friend."

Doing so will not only help you deal more constructively with your feelings, but it will also rebuild your confidence, and it might just help you advance when the next opportunity rolls around.

To get yourself in position, Betsy Gullickson, Gunn's coauthor, suggests you:

  • Get very, very clear about roles. Remember the person, but show respect for his new position.
  • Be a good "wing man." For instance, in meetings, ask questions and insert comments that help sustain a positive tone and move discussion toward the goal.
  • Step up yourself. Now's your chance to show that you can handle a greater share of responsibility and leadership.
  • Be proactive, and take initiative. After all, you now have a boss who believes in you.

Friends in High Places

When Scott Testa of Norristown, Pennsylvania, saw his office buddy get promoted for a job they both wanted, he tried to see the big picture: "It's better to know who your superior is than if they hired someone from outside the company or department," he says. "I was disappointed, but he was my friend, and friends don't let friends down."

So rather than turning your back on your old pal, get closer, Gullickson says:

  • Use your special history and shared knowledge of insecurities to help your new boss keep his bearings.
  • Haul him out from under the mound of work on his desk and talk about the nonwork things you've always shared; you'd be surprised how rarely anyone asks the boss to lunch without some kind of agenda.
  • Help him laugh; lightening up is essential to keep one's thinking clear.

"In short, now is the time to be a better friend than ever," she says.

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