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Fred Whelan and Gladys Stone

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Help! My Co-Worker Is Now My Boss

Posted: 11/17/08 11:19 AM ET

Everything was going great, your career was rolling along and then the announcement came down from the executive suite that your co-worker, not you, got the much coveted promotion. Darn! And you were friends too, so this feels even more awkward. As Lincoln said, "The better angels of our nature" should help us be magnanimous in defeat. Then again, what did Lincoln know about things going "south"? You lick your wounds and realize you're going to have to figure out a way to make this work. After all, you love the company and the work you're doing, plus you don't want to derail the career success you've had to date.

How do you move forward now that your co-worker is your boss?

1. Offer Support -- Congratulate them on getting the job and tell them you know they'll be successful. They'll appreciate this vote of confidence because, don't forget, this is new territory for them. Offer them your expertise, some special skill that you have that will help them be more effective in the initial months of their new job.

2. Don't Be Two-Faced -- The worst thing you can do is to put on a happy face to your boss and talk negatively behind their back to others in the department. Or undermine their efforts and authority by criticizing them: "Joe doesn't know what he's talking about." If that's how you really feel, bring it up to Joe rather than badmouthing him which will reflect poorly on you. Even if people come up to you and say "You should've gotten the job," resist the opportunity to agree with them.

3. Take Orders With a Positive Attitude -- This might be the hardest part at first, taking orders from a former co-worker. Remember that one of the keys to being successful is being flexible. It's perfectly normal for them to be giving directions, so accept it in that light and don't take it as a personal affront.

4. Be Patient -- Keep in mind that this is a new position for your boss and that s/he will be figuring this out as they go. If they happen to stumble, that should not reinforce to you that the wrong person got the promotion. In a new job, we all have a learning curve and your new boss is no different. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

5. Keep Your Friendship -- Chances are that you were friends (at least at work) with this person as a co-worker. Maybe you went to lunch or attended conferences together. There's no reason for this change in organizational structure to affect your friendship. It's perfectly okay to invite them to lunch as you used to. Be understanding if their new commitments don't always allow them to accept. Real friendships tend to survive these new circumstances.


Change is a part of everyday life in an organization. Sometimes it works in our favor and sometimes it doesn't. That person was chosen over you because they were seen as the stronger candidate. Use this as a learning opportunity to discover and develop those areas which will make you the next one promoted. In the meantime, anything you can do to help your new boss will strengthen the department and reinforce that you're a team player. Senior management values this quality in their leaders, which will serve you well in the future.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success

This blog is a new regular feature focusing on career issues.

 

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