How to be a boss and a friend

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Stepping into a leadership role is an exciting moment in a vet or nurse’s career, but it doesn’t come without its challenges, including now managing people who used to be your peers.

Taking the leap into leadership some people find it hard to establish their authority through fear of not being liked. After all, who doesn’t want to be liked?

Managing former peers can be great if you have solid relationships with them. They are more than likely very happy for you, and feel you are deserving of the role. But you have to recalibrate your relationships with people and that doesn’t come without feelings and emotions on both sides. You can no longer have close, personal friendships with your former peers, not in the way you did before. If you do, you’re at risk of appearing to play favourites.

Boundaries can be difficult to define for a while, especially if you used to be the person people turned to, to offload onto or confide in. There’s this dance between friend mode and boss mode on a regular basis, which if not managed can be a drain on your energy.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the transition from co-worker to boss:

Talk, talk, talk!

There will be some awkwardness felt in your relationships by you stepping up into a leadership role, so it’s best to face it head on.

Create some quality one on one time with people to talk candidly about the shift in dynamics between you. If there’s an elephant in the room, talk about it. Do the difficult things while they are easy, before they snowball into something much bigger.

“Easy conversations, hard life. Difficult conversations, easy life.” Rachael Paul, Simply Veterinary Coaching

Having honest conversations like this can take some courage, but it reflects very well on you as a leader because people will feel reassured of your ability to face challenges head on.

Get them involved and engaged.

Send a signal to people that you care about their opinions, for example you could ask for their input on what they think the goals of the practice should be over the next 12 months and then demonstrate your competence by taking meaningful action based on their input.

Make your relationship with your team as collaborative as possible from day one and keep them in the loop about what you’re doing and why you‘re doing it.

Get aligned with your new identity.

When I speak to new leaders, one of the first questions I ask is, "Do you see yourself as a leader?" The common response is, "No". Some believe they got the job through pure luck (I don't believe in luck). If you don't yet know who you are as a leader then define who you WANT to be. Get clear on the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of this future version of yourself. Get in touch with your values to develop your leadership compass, so that you're always staying directionally correct.

Honestly, for a while your new leadership role may feel like you're a chimp in a gorilla suit. It doesn't mean you're not ready, it doesn't mean you're not good enough, it doesn't mean you're not being authentic. Leadership is a growth journey, and what an amazing journey it is.

I work with established, new, and aspiring leaders. I am passionate about supporting people through the growth milestones of a veterinary leader. I've been working the veterinary profession and veterinary leaders for 10 years. The best thing you can do as a new leader, is speak to someone who gets it: [email protected]