Working With A Boss Who Was Once Your Co-Worker

by | Leadership Skills

Transitioning to working with a new boss is an adjustment, but it is especially challenging when they were previously your peer or co-worker in the same department.


How do you make a graceful transition from being co-workers to now boss and employee?

With a change in job roles come new considerations.

Whether you’ve been allies or friendly rivals in the past, you can learn how to work with a boss who was formerly your colleague in the office.

Give these suggestions a try to build a better working relationship with your new boss.

Hard Skills

Steps to Take With Your New Leader Who Was Once Your

1. Extend your congratulations

Most people forget the obvious. Congratulate your former co-worker on their promotion in the company. Be specific and sincere. What is one quality or accomplishment that you admire about them? Share that and express your enthusiasm about working together. Follow up with a short email extending your congratulations and repeating your excitement about working together.

2. Choose whether or not to share details about your personal life

Establishing space and new boundaries is a major part of the transition from co-worker to now leader. You can share some of your personal information with your boss, but you should know when to draw the line. You have to figure out what you feel comfortable sharing now. You may find it necessary to take certain topics off the table like family or health issues when talking to your leader that could affect your job.

3. Offer support to your leader. If you support them, it can help both of you succeed

Volunteer information and resources that will help them to become familiar with their expanded responsibilities. Take responsibility for your actions, share ideas, and let them know they can always turn to you for support.

4. Accept feedback positively

Your former co-worker will now be overseeing your work. Accept feedback without getting defensive. Listen with an open mind and appreciate the guidance.

5. Schedule one-on-one meetings

Even if you know each other well, a shift in job roles may make it harder to work together. Invite opportunities for private discussions to talk priorities, workflows, and explore new ways of working collaboratively.

6. Create a learning opportunity

Your recent co-worker has been promoted to your leader, and it’s only natural to be curious about what they did to get into that position. Pay attention to how they operate, their language, behaviors, and how senior management in the organization interacts with them. You may find a role model in your new leader and be able to learn from them for your future success.

Related: 4 Steps To Develop Your Leadership Skills
Related: How To Become A Leader In 20 Minutes Or Less!

Steps to Take For Yourself When Your New Leader Was Your

soft skills vs hard skills

One of the toughest situations employees might face is when their new boss was recently a co-worker.

Take a deep breath. Despite the awkwardness, you may be feeling (know they are probably also feeling the same thing), it’s important to keep in mind that you still have your own responsibility and professionalism to maintain.

Here are some tips to make this situation go smoother:

1. Expect change

Even when you are working with people you’ve known for years, there will be different approaches, expectations, and experiences ahead. Strive to accommodate the preferences of your new boss to promote an effective and supportive working relationship. You’ll be building goodwill that strengthens your new relationship.

2. Sort out your feelings and emotions

When a co-worker gets promoted instead of you, it’s natural to feel rejected or passed over. There can be a lot of feelings and emotions that bubble up. That’s especially true if you wanted the position or if you’ve been with the same company longer at the same job. Accept your feelings and make smart decisions that will enhance your professional image and reputation.

3. Avoid special treatment

Concerns may arise amongst co-workers if you know the new boss well and were seen as friends. Avoid any special treatment because it may lead to resentment and lack of respect among co-workers, who might think you are receiving preferential treatment. Do your best at work, keep your word, help others, and share the credit with others on your team; this will help build confidence and trust.

4. Clarify your intentions

You may need to examine your own motives as well in relating to your new leader. Ask yourself if you value them for their personal strengths and style or if you’re trying to score advantages and benefits for yourself.

5. Squash gossip

New leadership can be an event that causes employees to go wild with speculation or gossip. Stick with the facts, lead with love, and speak well of others instead.

6. Reassure yourself

Even when change is good, it can still be stressful. Use this time to take care of yourself by staying mentally and physically grounded. Relax every day with regular exercise and meditation. Give your body the rest and nutrition it needs. Reflect on and outline your accomplishments.

7. Plan your departure

On the other hand, major changes at work can sometimes cause you to realize the need for change and that it’s time to move on and search for something new. If so, give appropriate notice and leave on good terms.

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The transition from once your co-worker to your new leader can be challenging, but it needn’t be.

While your roles have changed, you already know your new leader from the time you’ve spent working side by side. Use your knowledge to make your new relationship supportive and productive.

The key is to keep working hard and avoid special treatment or favoritism in the workplace. Your new boss will appreciate your support if you work with them as they grow into their leadership role. You may even find a mentor in the process who helps you prepare for future success too!

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Rebecca Morgan, PhD, is an award-winning former Disney leader and founder of The Awesome Leader League (T.A.L.L.), the ultimate collection of leadership skills to help you be a better leader. Without EVER being a soul-sucking “boss-hole.” Join us here.

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