How to Survive Being Promoted Past Your Peers

A significant number of employees, supervisors, managers, and even vice presidents find themselves getting promoted and having to figure out not only how to detach from their old peers as well as how to fit in with their new ones. The transition can be difficult to navigate, but these 10 behaviors can help you avoid the standard pitfalls and become more successful faster.

  1. Leave your old job carefully. Exiting your old department with unfinished projects or messy relationships will undercut beliefs about your effectiveness and competence. So remember the old Boy Scout adage about leaving the campsite cleaner than you found it, and tidy up all aspects of your old job before moving on to the new one.
  2. Acknowledge the strangeness of the situation. Let your old peers know: “This is going to be a new thing for all of us.” If a member of your new staff tried out for the job you’ve just started, don’t avoid the situation; instead, give it some fresh air and a little sunlight in a brief discussion: “You may not be completely comfortable with me in this role, and you may be feeling overlooked. I recognize that you have a real contribution to make, and I’m hoping we can work together to take the team/project forward. I’m also counting on you to let me know how I can help you be as successful as possible.”
  3. Focus on building and keeping credibility, not on bossing everyone around. You won’t be exactly the same in your new role as you were in the old one. You’ll have to demonstrate competence and confidence — while still maintaining enough humility and care for the people who used to be your peers.
  4. Know what kind of functional performance is required and make sure you can demonstrate it. Your new subordinates need to see you as an expert authority, and your new peers and superiors need to see that you’re capable. So if you need tutoring or extra practice, get it.
  5. Manage your communication. Listen harder than you’ve ever listened before. Consider what’s being said, what’s not being said, and what goes without saying because everyone assumes it. But if you’re frequently interrupted when you’re speaking, ask others to hold their questions or comments until you get to the end of your thought or topic — and then listen carefully again.
  6. Step back to assess your old peers and your new subordinates. Think about how you could help them capitalize on their strengths and shore up their weaknesses to help the team succeed.
  7. Don’t impose your will right away. You’ve probably been planning many changes you’d like to make, but instead of rushing to implement them, do what you wish bosses had done with you: Share the challenges and ask for people’s opinions as input to your big decisions. But go ahead and decide and act quickly on any small, straightforward things that won’t trigger pushback.
  8. Learn about your new peers’ functional responsibilities as well as how they conduct themselves, so you can start to fit in and get their support even as you’re learning the lay of the land. Be conscious of when you’re asserting yourself, and behave in culturally appropriate ways.
  9. Get yourself a mentor — or possibly two. It’s crucial to have an experienced peer or senior colleague to brainstorm with and get advice from. It’s also usually helpful to get some external support from an industry pal, wise friend, or coach who can give you additional perspectives.
  10. Keep in mind how much attention you paid to your old bosses and all the things you speculated about them. Now everyone is paying attention to you, and speculating in exactly the same way. So make sure to help where you can, and express your gratitude or appreciation to others without being smarmy or insincere. You’re a role model now, so act like one.

Onward and upward,


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