No longer friends

I was recently promoted to a senior HR management role and now have a former colleague and friend reporting to me.

Dear Laurence,

I was recently promoted to a senior HR management role and now have a former same-level colleague and friend reporting to me. I can feel he is upset about the changed circumstances, although I don’t think he will do anything to deliberately undermine me. I do worry that his engagement and focus are going to drop, and he may resent both me and the company.

Have you encountered anything like this in your career, and is there anything I can do to help this friend accept the new hierarchy and thrive again?

Asking for a friend, Singapore

This is always a difficult situation, and yes I have been in exactly this position. I have two key learnings to share.

One is: No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, and no matter how sincere you are, that person’s true character will define whether you can continue to work together or not. In my situation, the incumbent whom I was hired over did indeed systematically sabotage me, and I had no choice but to remove them.

However, his replacement, who was also my equal in position (and also more senior in years) was a delight to work with, He realised that we both had different strengths and that we could learn from each other. There was no way I could be successful without his support; and equally I could help him to achieve his future career goals.

I’d ask you to think: what can you do to help your colleague be really successful, to grow and develop as a leader, to be the next person promoted. And how can you help them understand that you’re completely genuine in your desire to see them succeed. I’d recommend you taking them to tea, lunch, coffee, or beer – whichever is appropriate – and having a heart-to-heart.

And if they are a person who has an open heart and open mind, they’ll appreciate your sincerity and support you. And if they intended to sabotage you, you’ll know about it much sooner.

My second learning was that if the worst case scenario eventuates, and you have to make a tough people decision and remove somebody – do it sooner, not later.

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