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Culture Shift: Going from coworker to leader

By Galen Emanuele

October 1, 2022

This month, I’m answering the question: “How do you go from coworker to leader and make it not weird? Especially when other people on the team applied for the same role and obviously didn’t get it.”

Setting off on the right foot. Ultimately what you want to do is quickly build trust and build rapport; you want your team to like you and to establish good working relationships. The first element to great relationships is understanding each other.

What I suggest you do is within a week or two of beginning to work together, sit down and have a one-on-one with each person on the team. My advice is to have a conversation that consists of saying “Hey, I’d love to get a sense of what a 10 out of 10 would look like from me as your leader.”

The purpose of the conversation is to find out what they love or don’t love about a leader, and what you can do to set them up to be successful and establish a great working relationship with them.

Here are some great questions to ask:

  • How can I earn a gold star with you as a leader?
  • What do you need from me to be successful and thrive in your role?
  • What things do you really value in a work environment?
  • What are things that you don’t like or that frustrate you?
  • What’s your working style?
  • What’s your communication style?
  • What’s the best way to give you feedback?
  • What’s something that you’re aware of that people can often misunderstand about you?

That last question is my personal favorite. This conversation is a great opportunity for you to let them know some similar things about you as well that will help you both move forward. It’s a chance to let them know how you like to give and receive feedback, and what things you really value.

This dialogue will quickly cement and normalize transparency and a receptiveness to feedback. This is also helpful to demonstrate your leadership and communication style, which is hopefully one of being in service of your team’s success and being willing to learn and be flexible and adaptable.

A conversation like this sends the message of “I need to know how you can thrive here and what I can do to support that, beginning with understanding more about each other so that we can have a more positive, healthy working relationship.”

An authentic path forward. I think this is a much more effective way to step into a role like this, versus putting on a front of “I’m the one who got the job, I’m superior and I know everything, watch me be perfect.” There’s no need for that; it immediately turns people off and creates division.

Coming from a place of being authentic and vulnerable, asking and saying, “How can I support you? I’m here to make you look good and make sure that you have everything you need from me.”

This is a lightning-fast way to come in and build rapport and trust with people. You’re always in a better place for building relationships when you approach things by trying to understand each other better and have some meaningful conversations about working together more effectively.

Galen Emanuele is a speaker and trainer on business leadership and team culture based out of Portland, Ore. Every week, Emanuele produces a video and blog post highlighting vital conversations, building skill sets and showing teams how to drive exceptional culture and leadership. To see more, visit