Can you help? Becoming your boss’s boss

There is a position open (for my manager’s manager). Higher level management asked me to apply for the position. From HR I will definitely get a question. How will you handle  your manager as a direct report?

I replied: Urgh, I don’t know. It’s a good question, and it’s probably pretty dependent on personalities, the job, etc. Want me to throw this out to my readers?

He responded:

My Present role is Technical Team Lead. My manager’s role is Operation Lead and he reports to the Global Lead. A few of the managers requested me to apply for Global Lead.
I know there will be an HR question, on how to deal that situation. Any pointers how to face? Sure please throw it to readers. Any inputs will be great.
So, any suggestions?

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10 thoughts on “Can you help? Becoming your boss’s boss

  1. I’m not sure, but it seems that since other managers have sugested you apply for the global manager role that they think you will be good at that. Actually, they probably think you’ll do better than your actual operational manager. The other posibility it’s that the reasons are political. Anyway, it’s a tricky situation.

    I think the first thing to do is founding out all the information on this situation that you can. Why higher management preffer you? That’s important because when yo HR you should talk about the things that made them think you’ll be great for the position.

    Then when HR ask you how you would handle the situation, you can say “profesionaly”. And then expand. You’ll do your best in the new position, and that includes every interaction with your former boss. But you are not the one who has to handle his feelings, you would treat him with respect and that include think of him as a profesional who’s able to do his work withough letting his feelings get in the way. You won’t be rude or puss boundaries, but you would have to do your (new) job and that includes asking your former boss to report to you. If he has problems with the new situation, you can help him, of course, by asking for counseling from HR or training of a sort. You could listen to his concerns and try to help him to get a promotion in the future. But the fact would remain that you’ll stop to being his report and became his manager, so you’ll have to act the part.

    Dissapointment and rejection are hard, but are not yours to handle, are his. I know that if I were in his position it would be tough, but if I think I’m being misstreated or not valued, I’ll look for another position in other place. So, yeah, maybe you could consider to look for the potential of replacement in case he’s like me.

    Hope it goes well for you.

  2. I would recommend responding in the following way (and then actually DOING this). If selected for the more senior role, immediately schedule a one on one meeting with your former boss. Acknowledge that this is an awkward situation for both of you. Stress that you respected him as your boss (assuming this is true) and will respect him as a subordinate, and that you want to make this working relationship a success. Commit to meeting regularly and discussing any issues that arise in an open, candid and professional way. Ask for his reaction, and listen carefully to his response.

    At the end of this first meeting, summarize your expectations, and then ask, “Can I get your commitment on that?” I believe that this is one of the most effective questions a manager can ask. Most people hold themselves accountable to do what they affirmatively commit to doing. And, in the event that he doesn’t do what he says he will, this can serve as the basis for a performance discussion down the road.

    Managing former peers (and especially former bosses) is one of the most challenging situations a manager can face, but with lots of attention and commitment to the relationship, it can absolutely work. Good luck!

  3. This has happened to me. It was a lower level management position at the time. I was promoted over lead position in that dept. I was promoted over the person who trained me and had been there the longest. I think the first thing to do is have a one-on-one conversation with the person you will now be supervising and clear the air. Expose the “elephant in the room”. Be very humble and kind. If you’ve worked great together in the past, indicate that you want your relationship to continue to be amicable and productive. It seemed to work well for us.

  4. I agree with Evil; it probably depends a lot on personalities and the nature of the job. Has your boss applied for the position? If not there may not even be a problem.

    One thing I would be careful about is trying to move things too quickly. Whether or not you two worked well together in the past, this situation will be awkward for him. Go out of your way to make him look good to his peers and subordinates, especially at first. Make sure he knows you respect his work and that you want to continue to learn from him as you grow into your new position (assuming this is true). I would even thank him for helping you advance to the new position (whether he may have meant to or not) – assuming he is not a screw up of some kind, he must have spoken well of you or given you good evaluations.

    Mainly, I would try to minimize any threat or degradation he might perceive or experience, especially at first. Display good will toward him and don’t push the “boss” thing too much to start, and let it develop from there.

    Good luck.

  5. There is no indication from the OP that it is possible there will be an issue. The OP only asks about how to answer the question to HR.

    My question to myself first would be. “IS there going to be a problem” . It seems like it COULD be a problem be we don’t know that. Is my manager a rotten person? Do we get along? Does he support me to climb higher and improve myself? And most important did my manager want that job to start with? Maybe but you don’t know that. But to assume that is wrong. Some people do not want to climb higher or their skill sets are not for that job.

    So, I would say “I will begin my position like any new position. I will make sure all my staff knows I have an open door policy…. etc… (However the OP wants to say that stuff) and so on).

    I would then state that ” I will not borrow any trouble and if there is no indication that my manager, now employee, would purposely be difficult and we are working fine together, there is no issue. I will make sure on my end I do not overstep my bounds and become difficult myself because I am managing my manager.

    I would then say “If there is a problem I would then approach him and discuss it. If he is upset that I am his boss now, I would have a frank discussion and say yes I am your manager however it doesn’t take away any of the contributions that I know you can make as I know you is a good and valued employee” I would say that I can’t manage your feelings about this and only you can decide which direction to go. I would reiterate that he is important to the team. But not indulge him either.

    Personally I would be careful setting him down on a one on one to begin with. It almost looks like you believe it is going to be a problem when he might be saying…….. good for you !!

    OK, I just rambled a little there but you get my point.

  6. Some people are simply happy with the role they are in. They don’t want added responsibility nor the longer working hours that come with a senior management role. It may be possible the manager does not want to progress further up the hierachy and has recommended the subordinate for the Global Lead position.

    1. That is exactly my thinking. We don’t know the manager is going to be mad and wanted the position.

      Like I said above, don’t borrow any trouble that you don’t need. It might not be an issue.

  7. Wow, I must be a cold fish with no emotion because I really don’t see it as a problem; especially since the higher ups asked the person to apply. Some one above thinks this person who do well in that new position.

    Yea, I guess it could be about “personalities.” But, really, unless I had a problem with someone, I would answer:

    “I’ve always had a great working relationship with my manager and look forward to doing so – no matter who is reporting to whom.”

    If they pushed me for more I would say that I wouldn’t expect nor demand that it be any different; adding:

    “My current manager and I are both professionals and wouldn’t behave any other way.”

    And if they really pushed:

    “What exactly are you expecting?”

  8. Ok, I believe that you can help here for my situation. I became boss from today to my old boss. They changed our positions and he did not quite. He was doing very bad and I was the person that was clearing everything after him. Now he is very mad at me and some have heart him saying ‘I don’t give a f…. anymore’. Please any advices are very welcome. What to do!?

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