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How to create powerful new relationships with a Coworker turned Boss

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How to handle a situation where the colleague is now your boss


I’m sure you’d agree with me when I say the prospects of a new boss at work can be daunting especially if an outsider has been hired. New relationships have to be forged with a complete stranger and new working styles adapted to.

But what if the new boss is not an outside hire but someone who used to be your coworker?

Let me be honest, you can make a graceful transition from being a peer to being a direct report provided you do it the right way.

Both the new boss and your Emotional Intelligence as well professionalism will be put to the test.

It happened a few years ago with one of my clients, Reena (name changed for confidentiality purposes) who had been vying for a promotion which went to another colleague and the coaching topic was handling the new situation.

Fortunately, my client and her colleague shared a good rapport and the issue for Reena was one of making adjustments to the professional relationship while also dealing with her disappointment.

As it turned out, there were others who had also wanted that particular promotion and I pointed out that this was the time to demonstrate support where others were hanging out at the water cooler engaging in other kinds of conversations.

Things turned out well and at her first performance appraisal, her new boss thanked her for the support as he too had been concerned about it as a first time manager. There had been challenges with other co-workers but Reena’s professional approach had made things easier for him.

He also arranged for her to get departmental sponsorship for a course that would ultimately lead to her getting another job within the organization and fast-tracking her career progression.

I’d love to say adapting to change in status quo happened overnight but it didn’t. There was inner work and actions required to be taken by Reena while she also learned the technique of managing the Manager.

In this post, I’m sharing the shifts and actions that worked in this situation and will help you too if faced with a similar situation.


3 mindset changes you need to embrace for success

Reena knew things had changed and even though she shared a good rapport with her new boss, that rapport was one of colleagues and not a direct reporting relationship. She was concerned about redefining boundaries and maintaining a professional relationship.


Change management quiz



  1. Accept your feelings and disappointment

 There’s no denying that you will experience a sense of disappointment at being passed over for the position for which you would have worked hard to demonstrate your being the best choice for candidature. It is natural.

 To be able to move forward and demonstrate your professionalism, the first step is to accept these feelings and emotions. Acknowledging them facilitates the next step of change.


  1. Don’t allow uncertainty to affect your confidence

Stay self-assured. Missing out on the promotion does not in any way devalue what you bring to the table. Reassure yourself and stay strong. The change might actually be a good one as it turned out for my client!

Build your resilience for the changes that are coming with a good self-care regime which will include rest, nutrition, meditation and exercise. Draw on your strengths and remember your achievements.

If you are still fearful, try the exercise in this post to take the sting out of your fear of uncertainty.


  1. Clarify your intentions

The situation cannot be changed unless you intend to quit and find a new job. A better way to adapt to change is to examine how you feel towards the new boss. Your intentions and motives will definitely affect your new relationship.

Simply deciding that you intend to be supportive won’t be effective unless you are able to accept that the new boss has certain strengths which you saw as a co-worker and which will be of value in his new role as a boss.

Ask yourself, will you be supportive because you genuinely respect the person or will you use your knowledge to your advantage?

In Reena’s case, she knew the manager was a man of logic and if she could make a sound business case for her requests within the perimeters of his sphere of influence, a lot could be achieved that would benefit the department as well as her own career goals.

Reena used the new situation as a learning opportunity. She knew the new boss must have done something right to have received the promotion.

One of her agreed coaching actions was to observe her new boss paying particular attention to how he operated and his interactions with senior management. Without realizing it, she found a mentor at work and a role model that helped her become a better leader when she changed jobs.

Reena chose to be supportive of the new boss because she knew he had certain strengths that made him a good leader with expert and referent power bases and he was a fair person.

The decision to be supportive was demonstrated in her staying away from the water cooler gossip sessions, speaking well of her new promoted colleague and using her own referent power base to help other department members adjust to the new structure.

Her efforts were acknowledge by her new boss who supported her professional development needs and arranged sponsorship for different courses that Reena needed to achieve her department task goals.


Make your new relationship work like a true professional

Whether you’ve been close allies or friendly rivals in the past, you can learn to thrive under the new leadership by using your Emotional Intelligence skillset and maintaining an air of professionalism.


Make your new relationship work like a true professional


Try these suggestions for restructuring your professional relationship.


Extend congratulations

No matter how you are feeling, protocol and good manners are a must. Remember the colleague too has worked hard for the promotion and deserves to be congratulated on their success.

Express a genuine delight on their achievement and state your support to them in their new role. Go the extra distance by referring to at least 1 quality about them that you like.

Follow up with a quick email repeating your thoughts. This may appear trivial but your new boss will remember your action.


Offer genuine support

Helping your boss succeed enhances your own future. I go into more tactics in my book Get Noticed but for now, make sure the support you offer is valuable.

The co-worker is settling into a new role and would need help while fitting into the ‘new shoes’ of a manager. Be generous by volunteering information that will help them to become familiar with their expanded responsibilities. Take responsibility for your actions and dazzle them with creative proposals.

Remember, when you make your boss look good, you look good too!

Suggest regular meetings to keep track of the work that you are doing and be open to accepting feedback.


Establish healthy boundaries

Setting boundaries is important for both of you in transitioning into the new relationship. Discussions about health and family over lunch or a coffee break between 2 peers is now out of the question as it could affect your career. Decide on the extent of personal information you will share.

One big advantage of this situation is you already know your boss from the time you’ve spent working together as co-workers and while your roles have changed, you have the required background and information to be proactive in making the new relationship work by rendering the right level of support.

Management never misses a trick and you will be seen as a co-operative colleague when compared to others. That 1 little difference often opens the doors for better career advancement in the future like it did for Reena.


How would you conduct yourself if a colleague got a promotion you had been angling for and became your boss?



The ability to apply Emotional Intelligence in this situation requires a high sense of Self-Awareness. This resource will come in useful. Get it while it’s on the launch promotion offer.


Karmic Ally Coaching's self help kit on developing Self-Awareness


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20 Responses to “How to create powerful new relationships with a Coworker turned Boss”

  1. Ahh, you weave such masterful insights and suggestions. I so wish you were around when I worked at a liberalarts college and earlier at a large chamber of commerce.

    Gratefully, I don’t have these issues as a self-employed ideapreneur.
    And yet, much of your wisdom has seed pearls to consider.


  2. Kathleen says:

    This is on point advice for anyone in a shifting company climate. There seems to be a lot of movement here in the US and workers unsure of how to proceed. Great guidance!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Kathleen. Changing structures in a company and even reorganizations can bring about changes in reporting lines that create awkward situations. Hopefully the guidance in this post will help professionals caught in this or a similar situation.

  3. Laura Joseph says:

    A great post with so many helpful tips. It just brought me back 20 years to a situation I experienced and based on your tips, I reflect to see how well I adjusted. Thank you.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      That is wonderful, Laura. Adapting to situations where something we wanted went to another capable person can be painful. How we react and respond says a lot about us and the level of our Emotional Intelligence.

  4. Leila says:

    Love love love
    I think it applies too to a fellow entrepreneur… how to celebrate their success.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      True Leila. In any situation where there is success which goes to someone else, being gracious and professional is important.

  5. I love the three mindset changes you need to embrace for success and to adjust to changing relationships in the workplace. Choosing to respond with grace to change is so empowering and understanding that boundaries are the key to this process is critical. Thank you so much for this great blog!

  6. Wish I’d had this info when I was still a member of the working world at large!

  7. Nice post Vatsala! Dealing with change in the workplace is not easy but you offer some great tips.

  8. Having been self-employed all my life I have not had to deal with bosses. My father encouraged each of us to be our own boss. We followed his advice. Most of my friends do have a boss and your advice in this article is most excellent. The workplace can be challenging, no matter the number of people employed. I listen to stories from friends about corporate conundrums. I encourage them to do the best job possible – with integrity, stay positive, be responsible, support co-workers, and trust that they will be led in exactly the right direction at the right time. Most important – personal boundaries should be respected in all workplaces.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you for adding to the tips with your insights, Debra. Each of the qualities you mentioned are important to manage such situations. We cannot control the conduct of others but we can make a difference, especially to the newly promoted colleague by showing solidarity and professionalism.

  9. CK Kochis says:

    Change can be difficult; especially in the workplace. We had a young woman promoted to a supervisory role. She’s the same age as my sons and was very inexperienced in management. Some of our team members embraced the shift in our office dynamics while others rebelled. This post reminded me those of us that helped the young woman grow into her position. Great insights and wisdom. Thank you…

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I’m sure the young woman would still be remembering you and the other team members who helped her grow into the position with gratitude and fondness.

      I was in a similar situation when I took over as the CFO of AIG’s non-Life business and the other departmental heads were supportive because they knew that their work ultimately led into mine. These were insurance veterans at least 10 years older than me and the lessons in teamwork impacted me enough to want to follow that model later in my career. Their teams followed their direction and helped lessen my learning curve.

      Thanks for sharing your wisdom and adding to the conversation, Cindy.

  10. Heather says:

    Mindset is everything, you have some really wonderful tips

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I believe the world would be a better place if high achieving professionals accepted setbacks and challenges to their careers as Wake Up Calls to embark on a Journey where their empowered course correcting actions create a New World Order that encompasses achieving their career aspirations & potential with authentic life balance.

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