You know what we don’t talk about enough? The nuances that come with being a manager for the first time, especially if you’re in your 20s and 30s and your direct reports are close in age. You go from thirsting over Oscar Isaac TikToks with your coworkers over Slack to feeling the pressure to put on this “boss” persona as soon as you get promoted. Surely, there has to be a way to find balance? How can you still be taken seriously while also being your authentic—sometimes oversharing—self? Surely, one shouldn’t have to be a compromise for the other.
We spoke with two experts: Alexa Curtis, co-founder of GrasshoppHer and the founder of the Be Fearless Summit and Elena Armijo, an executive and leadership coach, to get their thoughts.
What are the best ways to navigate this new relationship with your colleagues?“Something I've found effective is being able to evaluate the room and identify the worst case scenario,” says Curtis. “The worst case scenario when you start being super ‘chill’ is you won't be taken seriously. If that's your worst case scenario, don't let it get there.”
As for how you do that, it may mean reevaluating your past behaviors through the lens of being a senior leader. Say you used to go out for post-work drinks with your team. Now that you’re a boss, you can still go out with your junior colleague. But! It may mean you dip before the last round, so that your reports can feel like they can truly blow off steam without you lurking. Remember: It’s not you, it’s your position.
Another gray area? Communication. How you text in after-hours group chat may not be ideal over on Slack. “I always maintain proper grammar,” recommends Curtis. “And I would suggest you reply to messages with ‘Okay’ versus ‘k.’” It’s not about dialing back your entire personality (because that would be inauthentic) but making subtle but noticeable adjustments that speak to your seniority.
Speaking of being authentic—“that can also mean having boundaries,” says Armijo. “Authenticity and vulnerability do not mean over sharing. You can be open and connected with someone you are managing by being clear in what is ok and what is not ok." Start to think about your own development as a leader too, she advises. Ask yourself: “What kind of a manager do I want to be?” Figure out your core values as a leader: Do you want to create a more laid-back, “you can talk to me about anything” vibe? Or limit the personal talk at work to weekend plans and the weather only? Do you want to prioritize team-building activities and creating a company culture that’s close knit? Or would you rather focus on employee’s performance, setting key goals for growth and initiative. The possibilities are truly endless.
So, you just got promoted and you’re now managing your work friends. What do you do?Yikes, that’s awkward (and far more common than you’d think, so don’t fret). The first thing you should do is have an open and honest conversation with your work friends and create healthy boundaries between your work life and your personal life. Your promotion may have set off some insecurities or concerns about their own career trajectories, so it’s important to be mindful of that. Curtis recommends inviting them for a drink or cup of coffee to tell them how much you appreciate their friendship and working relationship. In that conversation, you can discuss your changing relationship and both of your expectations moving forward. Armijo agrees. “When people are clear on their boundaries they know where to meet each other and how to partner.”
It’s also a great time to learn what they want to see evolve and progress within the company, advises Curtis, and advocate for your new team members. “This is your chance to not only be a boss, but a role model,” she says.
Still nervous about becoming a manager? Here are some final pieces of wisdom.
“Remember it's not about getting it perfect or right—it's about growing with people,” says Armijo. “Experience will bring growth and lessons that may not feel good, and are necessary for growth. Being in the mess is where the gold is.”
And if it makes you feel any better, Curtis has been there. “Being a young founder is fascinating: I grow and learn so much, every step of the way, especially when I'm hiring. I make a point to learn from the people around me, especially if they're older, so that I'm mentoring and getting mentored everyday.”