how do I tell my friend that I’m about to become his boss?

A reader writes:

About a year ago, I quit my job after I had a major health crisis and then had an unrelated death in my immediate family. My employer had been great through those challenges, but I needed some time away from working to heal body and mind.

Recently I decided I was ready to get back into the workforce. I ramped up my networking, and met one of the executives from my old employer for lunch. She asked if I was interested in coming back and outlined a need they had that I could fit. Within the next two weeks, I met with the hiring executive and had an offer in hand. It is similar to the role I had before, but with more money, authority, and a team to lead. Sounds awesome, right?

My problem is that a good friend, “Wakeen,” is the team’s current technical lead (but not manager). Wakeen’s wife is lifelong friends with my best friend, I’ve been to his house for game nights, we have lunch occasionally, and have worked together at two different places. We’re not besties, but he’s in my social circle.

Complicating things is that the executives at my employer are not happy with Wakeen’s performance as lead, and that’s a part of why they have created the manager role I’m moving into. I’m a little baffled by this, because he’s genuinely knowledgeable, hardworking, and easy to get along with. I think it is probably a combination of burnout and miscommunication, but I’ll know more once I get in the role.

What I’m struggling with is how/whether/when to talk to Wakeen about this. I need to hash out with my future manager how we’ll tell the team that I’ll be leading them. But because of our existing relationship, it would be weird to not give Wakeen a heads-up before/separate from whatever general meeting is held. If I were moving into a role that wasn’t his supervisor, I would have already sent a “GUESS WHAT I’M COMING BACK!!” text to him.

I am not sure how he will feel about it, and I wouldn’t be surprised or hold it against him if his initial reaction is not entirely positive. I know he thinks the company should hire for a different kind of leader role than the one I’m taking, and he might feel like the executives have made an uninformed or dumb decision. I guess I expect him to have a bit of a WTF reaction, but hopefully he’ll see some positives fairly quickly (having an engaged leader, having a boss you know isn’t an asshole, some admin/PM tasks off his desk so he can focus on the stuff he likes, etc.). We worked together really well when I was there before.

I’d like to grab lunch and roll it out to him, but there’s also value in giving him time to have a private reaction and think about his response. I know our relationship will change, but treating him like just another coworker with this news feels like it will get things off to a bad start. What do you recommend?

Yes, definitely tell him before it’s announced to the team as a whole. You want to give him time to process his thoughts on his own (and hopefully head off any initial WTF reaction that he might have in front of others), and you want him to feel like you did him the courtesy of telling him directly, rather than leaving him to hear it with everyone else.

But I’d caution you against approaching him too delicately. People tend to take their cues from others on this stuff, and if it’s clear to him that you’re nervous about telling him or that you’re worried he’ll take it badly, it risks making it more dramatic than it needs to be. So I’d keep it matter-of-fact and upbeat. For example: “Hey, I have some news! I’ve been talking with Jane, and I’m going to be coming back to the company, as the head of llama grooming. I’m really looking forward to it, and I wanted to tell you privately before it’s announced to the group.”

If you hear a little WTF in his reaction, I’d do him the kindness of pretending you didn’t hear it and just moving along with the conversation. But if he’s openly shocked or even negative, you could say something like, “I know you had some different ideas about what would be right for the position. My sense from Jane is that she’s looking for someone to bring X, Y, and Z. In any case, you and I worked well together in the past, and I’m so glad we’ll be working together again.” That’s pretty vague, obviously — it’s really about giving him a chance to save some face in front of his new boss if his initial reaction is, er, overly candid.

On the other hand, if you feel there’s value to digging into his concerns and hearing him out, you can do that too. But since you’re not positioned to do anything with his concerns before you’ve even started the job, it’s a risky move. Not necessarily the wrong one — it’s true that you don’t want to come off as polly-anna-ish in the face of legitimate worries — but risky.

Whether or not to have this conversation over lunch or in some other medium depends on the relationship and what you know of Wakeen. In general, since you already occasionally get lunch together, I can see defaulting to that — but if you know him to be someone who does better processing things with some warning, it could be kinder to do it over the phone instead, rather than make him sit there and be pleasant to you throughout an entire lunch while he’s reeling from the news. Email takes it down a notch even further, of course, but a lot of people would find email too impersonal. Again, it depends on the relationship, how you two normally talk, and what you know of how he works best.

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. AthenaC*

    My vote would be a “Hey, great news!” phone call with the script Alison suggested, and then if you get a WTF reaction, AND if it makes sense for your respective roles, follow up with a lunch or coffee the following week to talk about what this relationship might look like at work. Not in an “I’m deferring to you” way but an “I am a manager who values input from my team and wants them to feel heard” way.

    Good luck!

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      Probably with “I’d like to talk with you” instead of “Hey, great news!”. The OP shouldn’t seem too upbeat in talking with Wakeen (though I’m not saying to be despondent or icy cold either) given why upper management has brought her onboard.

      1. AthenaC*

        Whoops – looks like I got “great news” and “some news” mixed up.

        Also could be because this week at work all I seem to get is “great news.”

        1. Chaordic One*

          I definitely would NOT say “Hey, great news!”

          You don’t know how Wakeen will take it and it might well come across as your being insensitive and/or obtuse. “I’d like to talk with you,” or “I have some news,” is definitely preferable. You might soften the blow by telling Wakeen that you enjoyed working with him before (if you did), you look forward to working with him again.

          I’m not sure if you should tell him that you’re planning to take a few things off of his plate so that he can focus on doing the things he enjoys doing right away, or if you should wait until you’ve been on the job for a short while, but it should help improve the situation and his outlook a bit.

  2. ArtK*

    I’d talk to Wakeen’s current manager before talking to Wakeen. The current manager should be prepping him for this in a general way. “I know you’ve been struggling a bit with this and I don’t have the time to do more detailed management of the team. We’re going to bring in a manager for the team.” Then OP can talk to Wakeen “Guess what? Your new manager is me!”
    In other words, separate the “you’re getting a new manager” from the “it’s someone you know.”

    1. ArtK*

      Follow up: If they haven’t been talking to Wakeen about their concerns before this, they’re setting OP (or any new manager) for a lot of problems.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Definitely. The big boss (who will be over both the OP and Wakeen) should have already been clear to Wakeen about why the OP is being brought onboard. Especially if they have noticeable, tangible concerns with the work that Wakeen is doing.

  3. Kj*

    This may get tricky, OP. I hope you will give your new boss a heads up about your relationship with Wakeen; not because it is bad or weird, but because Wakeen might have a different reaction to you than to another boss. You also will also deal with Wakeen in different ways, since he is a friend of sorts. Not that you will show bias, but that your judgement will be somewhat affected by your knowing Wakeen socially. It is good to have a conversation about this with your new boss preemptively, so they are aware.

  4. jo*

    OP, you sound pretty nervous about this, and while some nervousness is only natural … I agree with Alison that you shouldn’t walk on eggshells. You haven’t done anything wrong by accepting the job. I repeat, you haven’t done anything to be ashamed of. This position is good news for you! Congrats!

  5. Jaguar*

    Are you expecting Wakeen to take this news badly? Are you close enough friends with Wakeen that if the situation were reversed (you were technical lead and Wakeen was about to be hired as your boss after being gone from the company for a length of time), would you be upset? If, in that scenario, Wakeen was told that management was unhappy with your performance, would you expect Wakeen to let you know about that? My answers to those questions would all change based on how close a friend I consider the person, so I’m not recommending any specific action. But generally, whatever you would expect from Wakeen if the situation were reversed given your friendship, I’d say you owe it to him to do that much.

  6. Matilda Jefferies*

    (Internet seems to have eaten my earlier comment; sorry if this is a double post.)

    Without knowing anything about Wakeen or his communication preferences, I can say that I would prefer to receive news like this via email. Something like this:

    Hi Matilda,

    I’m not sure if you knew that Teapots Inc is planning on hiring a new manager for your team. In any case, I wanted to let you know that the new manager is me, and I’ll be starting on Sept 1st. Please don’t say anything to the rest of the team just yet – we’ll make an official announcement soon, but for now I wanted to give you the heads up that it’s coming.

    I’m looking forward to working with you again – please let me know if you’re free for lunch before I start!

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree with this.

      Email first, and this is a nice approach.

      And try to get lunch before the actual day.

    2. CM*

      I think this is perfect because it doesn’t assume Wakeen will be upset, but gives him an opening to express any concerns privately in advance.

  7. Snark*

    So, I’ve been here. I really want to underline what Alison said about not making this A Thing. It’s kind of A Thing, and I’ll wager he was hoping for a promotion, but you guys work well together and respect each other, and this is no time to stop. Make this good news, not something fraught and awkward, and my guess is he will follow your lead.

    Also, make really, really sure that you treat his contribution as tech lead as valuable and complimentary to your own role. He’s going to feel a little like he got passed over, and a little deference and publicly expressed respect and confidence will do a lot to smooth those feathers back down.

  8. nonymous*

    It’s really hard to know beyond “definitely tell Wakeen before the rest of the team”, b/c so much of this depends on his personality. What if he applied for the job too? Or as someone else pointed out, what if he doesn’t know that his performance is subpar?

  9. M from NY*

    I believe you need to accept your relationship with Wakeen is about to change. You don’t know for sure what work habits have necessitated the managerial shift. You’re already giving him benefit of the doubt instead of preparing to work with facts employer shared while interviewing you.

    Any disappointment for not getting job are his to deal with. Worrying about his reaction will lead to too much “couching” of your news and undermine your authority with him before you start. Truth is he may never accept you as lead and may in fact had prefered a stranger vs someone he believes he is superior to. Its not his choice. Don’t give appearance that you are apologizing for meeting the requirements that management has set up to get team back on track. His reaction is his responsibility not yours to soften. Make the job tell the team about the new hire and realize your personal relationship is likely to change.

    Not sure if OP is a woman but I see too many fall prey to the need to be liked. They apologize for achievements that men never would. You got the job. Wakeen may never see your promotion as a positive action and you need to be ok with that.

    1. Mike C.*

      You don’t know for sure what work habits have necessitated the managerial shift.

      Also be open to the possibility that the performance issues may stem from other systemic issues around the workplace. Many times folks are only looking towards the individual when it comes to this sort of thing and see other explanations as “just excuses”. Ensure that they have everything needed to be successful and go from there, that sort of thing. Obviously you’ll know more when you start work.

      If your friend is reasonable, they will be much more open to and likely appreciative of your coaching.

  10. TootsNYC*

    But I’d caution you against approaching him too delicately. People tend to take their cues from others on this stuff, and if it’s clear to him that you’re nervous about telling him or that you’re worried he’ll take it badly, it risks making it more dramatic than it needs to be.


    Anytime you say, “I don’t want to upset you, but…” you have just said, “I think you should be upset about this.”

    One of my first thoughts was, “Why didn’t you tell Wakeen that you had an interview there?”but I know there are all kinds of reasons why it wouldn’t come up, or why you wouldn’t call him out of the blue if you’re not that close.

    Make it short, simple, and matter-of-fact.

    It’s complicated by the fact that they told you this info already, but try to keep it out of your first interactions. I suggest email, in that case. It’s easier to give only the basic info; you don’t have to worry about tone of voice or expression or body language.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I can see not saying you had an interview to become your friend’s boss, because if you don’t get the job, you don’t have to address any potential awkwardness at all.

    2. Lana Kane*

      Yeah, this was a really good answer, and that part jumped out at me too. Alison really has a good balance of combining managerial knowledge with understanding human nature.

  11. MommyMD*

    You are giving Wakeen’s possible reaction way too much power over you. You are allowed to take a position and this is not your extremely close best friend. Let him know in a positive manner without any tone of apology in your voice. This is a great opportunity for you. Do not let the fear of a reaction derail it for you. Wakeen will have to cope. Do not walk on egg shells.

  12. Angelinha*

    If I hired someone to manage an existing team, I would be a little put off if they announced to someone that they had been hired before I/the company told them. It seems strange to me, even if they already know each other.

    1. MillersSpring*

      +1000 I would NOT tell Wakeen in advance. The company definitely may feel that the OP should keep her new role confidential until her start date. It is THEIR place to inform a team/person that they will have a new manager.

      The social relationship should not take priority over the preference of the OP’s employer.

    2. Life is Good*

      I agree with this 100%. Though, OP may know this is ok since they worked at this company before. At my old dysfunctional company, we couldn’t even announce birthdays because the CEO wanted that honor all to himself.

    3. Jerry Vandesic*

      I agree. This needs to be discussed with the hiring manager, laying out all the backstory. If the hiring manager agrees, only then should the conversation between the OP and Wakeen take place.

  13. TootsNYC*

    Also: it’s sort of disrespectful to have his emotions for him.
    And that’s what you’re doing, sort of–you’re spending so much time trying to predict his reactions, etc., and that’s just not your proper role.

    Just tell him. Don’t be mean, don’t be anything–just be straightforward. Take all the emotion out of it. You have an actual relationship, you’ll be his boss, so what does that warrant? Telling him early.

    Don’t think about how he’ll feel; don’t say to yourself, “he’ll be happy,” or “he’ll be upset.” Those are HIS emotions. Leave them to him.

    He’s a grownup. Let him manage his own feelings; don’t you try to.

    1. Jaguar*

      So, there are a lot of comments about not trying to predict Wakeen’s reactions and I’d like to offer a counter-argument to that. I agree with the broader point to not dwell on or obsess with them, but trying to predict how someone will react to a situation you’re in has obvious utility: it prepares you for various outcomes so you’re not dealing with them on the fly. Humans are able to abstract and practice social situations before going into them and we developed that ability for good reason. Humans are also infamously bad at predicting how other people will react to things they do, so absolutely do not dwell on Wakeen’s reaction and expect your hypothetical to turn out false. But I don’t see the advice to not even consider how Wakeen might react as particularly wise.

      1. Nicotene*

        I also think it’s nice to honor the relationship you do have with him as a friend now. I had someone start working with me that I knew from RL and they were oddly formal in announcing it, via email that sounded kind of canned, like they would have sent it to any stranger – but we were not strangers, we knew each other, and I guess I kind of wanted some acknowledgement of that. The relationship will necessarily change and that’s fine – if you were friends before, best not to think of yourself as “friends” now, which can be hard – but I was a little put off by the seeming erasure of our past relationship from our memory. That’s only my $.02. And don’t worry, it ultimately all worked out fine!

  14. OP*

    I just started this job on Monday. My friend actually wanted this job and felt he was positioning himself for it. His leader did not agree.

    My boss talked with each person on the team individually to let them know I was joining. I wasn’t aware this was happening until after the fact. I met with Wakeen for coffee to talk about it. He was pretty mad, mostly at the lack of transparency and not being involved in the selection process, but also frustrated at his lack of upward mobility after unofficially leading the team for months. He’s not mad AT me, but he’s angry at the situation.

    I went through a similar situation years ago (not getting a promotion I thought was deserved) so I can relate to what he’s going through. He’s been nice but not chummy or warm. I’m hoping that as his workload lightens and he gets to focus on the technical work he is so skilled at that the sting will wear off and things will feel better.

    1. Roscoe*

      I wouldn’t count on it. And that is nothing against you. But once you’ve been passed over, it very rarely just works itself out. Now again, it doesn’t mean he would or should take it out on YOU, however, don’t expect him to just be ok with this. Also, be ready for the game nights at his place to end and your relationship to shift dramatically. When I got passed over for a promotion (which I realistically didn’t want, but think I should have been considered for) for someone else, I have basically just been work with him, whereas before we had a more chummy relationship.

    2. MommyMD*

      Go into your new job with positivity. This is a good thing for you. Do not let Wakeen dampen your enthusiasm. Just be a good team leader. He will have to be an adult and get over it.

      If he continues to grumble I’d say something like “I’d like to move on in a positive direction from here”.

      Enjoy your new position.

      1. Mike C.*

        Why do you think Wakeen is dampening enthusiasm or will continue to grumble (or even grumbling at all)? A lack of transparency and a miscommunication of standards and expectations are reasonable things to be upset about – no one likes believing they are doing what’s needed only to find out that they aren’t. That sort of thing is downright demoralizing. Furthermore, the desire to be successful means that Wakeen is going to be very open to coaching and anything else that will get them back on track.

        It doesn’t seem like this frustration is affecting his professional work either, so I’m just a little surprised at the response here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, because different people react differently in this situation. Some people would be open to coaching to get back on track, but a lot of people handle it pretty badly. (For example, this guy.)

          1. Mike C.*

            The OP said that in the days since the friend has been nice but not chummy. Nothing mentioned about continued grumbling or other professional problems.

        2. Ramona Flowers*

          Or he might carry on grumbling. And he might not be open to coaching. You just can’t predict things with such certainty.

          And while it’s understandable to be frustrated, not everyone would be openly mad about it.

    3. ArtK*

      Ugh. I was afraid that the company would mishandle this and it sounds like they may have. It should not have come as a surprise to him that they were hiring a manager. His previous manager should have been coaching him and dealing with Wakeens desire to move up — if he wasn’t measuring up at the time, this should have been communicated along with what steps he could take to make it happen in the future. OP, this will now be your job, to assess Wakeen and help him move up if possible, or out if this isn’t the right place for him.

      As a long-time team lead, I would be livid if they hired a manager over me without my input. I was plenty peeved when my company hired a peer without talking to me. We were both in leadership positions (me as chief technical lead and him as manager over development) and we needed to work together. He was monumentally unsuited to the role and left quickly, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

      1. Nicotene*

        Yeah OP I just wanted to flag for you that it’s quite likely that Wakeen will eventually quit, and I think that’s okay – it’s not a reflection on you or how you’re doing the job, and you didn’t do this to him. It’s pretty normal that when someone is passed over for promotion – under any circumstances! – they will start looking. I’ve done it myself. It’s just a sign that your company doesn’t see longterm potential in you – and based of what you know from the past conversations, that may well be true in Wakeen’s case.

        1. Salmon Maki*

          Yes, I echo this. I managed people I used to be at the same level at, and all of them left within a year, even the ones I continued to work worth very well.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        I don’t really get this, because I’ve never had any job where you get input into so many hiring decisions e.g. managers above you. But the key thing is to work with people who can hire competently – the lack of that sounds like your main problem there.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Same here. It’s always been, “We’ve hired a new manager and he starts on Monday.” I’ve never been anywhere where people other than the hiring manager or maybe senior management get any input into the decision.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Plus, you’re sure not going to tell Wakeen that you aren’t promoting him until you’re quite sure that you’re not.

    4. CrazyEngineerGirl*

      This also may offer you the perfect opportunity to coach him for upward mobility. He may not be ready to hear/discuss it yet, but there are reasons he wasn’t promoted. If you know or can find out what these reasons are, you could try to work in some applicable professional development opportunities for him.

      1. Nicotene*

        True, but such a fine line. The burnout situation is tough. I’ve seen it happen that someone is tasked with team lead but NOT promoted, and they run around like mad trying to keep everything together, their old work and the new stuff – their work starts to suffer – then they’re judged not ready for promotion. There’s a reason that we give people we promote a new scope of work and new authorities, rather than just adding stuff to the plates of existing people! It’s very unfortunate. Then the old, “problem” employee is shunted aside for the shiny new person that inherited none of these issues and goes ahead and succeeds. [The answer is, if you are acting team lead for more than a few months without compensation and with no sign the promotion is in the works, you are probably being taken advantage of].

    5. Specialk9*

      I mean, chummy would be weird. You’re not chums, you’re his boss. That’s not a reasonable expectation.

    6. Stop That Goat*

      Yea, you’re probably going to lose him and maybe that’s for the best. All the issues aside of dealing with the loss of a promotion, now you guys can continue to run in the same social circles. That likely would need to change if you remained his boss.

      Congrats on the new job!

    7. Kathenus*

      This situation has occurred a few times recently in my workplace, internal people not getting a promotion and the dynamics between them and the new manager. In one case, the new manager is my direct report. In a recent discussion we had related to counseling and coaching the employee (who had not been promoted), the new manager mentioned feeling awkward in the coaching because the employee had been there longer than them and had been a candidate for their job. I suggested to the new manager that she try to not let those factors overly influence her treatment of the situation, because she was basically handling the employee with kid gloves versus being direct.

      A while later the new manager mentioned that this mindset was really helping her in her coaching and counseling of the employee. By thinking how she would handle the discussion with an employee who might be newer or who had not been up for the job, it helped her avoid letting these factors cloud how she managed the experienced employee who had been a candidate for her job.

      And by having this discussion with my direct report, it also helped me to think more about how I have, and might in the future, deal with people in similar situations. Maybe this will be of some use to you in your work with Wakeen.

    8. In Wakeen's shoes*

      A similar thing happened a couple of months ago at the company I work for: my manager moved to another position and was replaced by a colleague, “Ben”, who was once on our team but had branched off into a different part of the company for a while. He’s close friends with one of the people on the team, “Jim”, of the “attended each other’s weddings” degree of friendship. When we got the news, Jim confessed to me privately that a) he was hoping to get the manager job (which was never going to happen, frankly) and b) he thought it was going to be kind of awkward to be working for Ben, who’s a little younger than he is as well as his friend.

      I haven’t talked with Jim about this since Ben officially took over the team, but Ben has done a few things really well that I recommend to you, OP:

      * Having one-on-one lunches with all the team members to see where things are with them and get a sense of any problem spots.
      * Making one frank acknowledgment that it’s a little weird for someone who was once our colleague to now be our boss, and then never bringing it up again (no repeated mentions of “Well, when I was on the team back in ’13, we did things this way”).
      * Putting a lot of obvious effort into understanding how things are now, rather than assuming they’re the same as they were when he was on the team. Before he gave us any instructions, he spent a couple of weeks just listening to us.
      * Treating everyone equally and respectfully, and making it clear that he sees it as his job to represent our needs to upper management, rather than just enforcing managerial decrees downward.
      * Being very laid-back wherever he can be, and only firm about the deadlines and other things that really matter; and explaining why he makes the requests he does (“I need you to have this report to me on Monday mornings rather than midday, because mornings are when I have fewer meetings and can look it over right away”).
      * Always being open to questions and encouraging us to speak freely.
      * Being really good at his job. Those people who wanted the management gig may be miffed that they didn’t get it, but no one can deny that Ben has been a great choice for the position, and I think that helps ease the grumpiness a lot. It would sting a lot more if they were all passed over in favor of someone who turned out to be incompetent.

      If I were in your position, I would be looking for ways to help Wakeen make his job more fulfilling, or work toward moving into a position he’d enjoy more. I know that Jim wanted to be promoted to the management job because he’s bored doing what he does, but because he’s bored doing what he does, he does it badly, which makes him less likely to be promoted. Once you’re settled into the new gig, pointing out a dynamic like that and helping your employee get past it can be really helpful for getting over any lingering awkwardness.

      In a few months I think you and Wakeen will have found a new normal and things will be fine.

      One thing I didn’t see mentioned elsewhere—since there are personal connections between his wife and your best friend, be careful not to ask either of those people to be go-betweens, and maybe hold off on venting to your best friend about Wakeen during this awkward transition phase.

    1. Nicotene*

      I did think that. On one hand I thought OP should have a one-on-one conversation so that Wakeen was not taken totally by surprise when the change was announced (it sounds like this is exactly what happened, unfortunately, and also that Wakeen was really hoping to get that promotion themselves, even worse). But at the same time I worried he wouldn’t be able to keep it to himself and it would come out that the newly hired employee spilled the news to one person on staff who then blabbed to everybody. All comes down to OP’s relationship with Wakeen and sense of his judgement.

  15. Michael*

    This situation is tough because if Wakeen got is act together, your job would become unnecessary, and he probably thinks one of these mornings, he’s going to walk in and do the job the way he used to. However, your hire means that the department is permanently stuck with the additional overhead even if he gets his act together. It’s depressing for him no matter what, which means there isn’t a course of action that will result in him being happy to hear the news. This means you might as well use brief and confident communication because at least it has the most upsides (assuming your new boss is okay with it.)

    I say all this having been him. It took some months, but I ended up being grateful for how much internal communication work I could dump on my manager and the department is better for the change. Good luck in the new position!

  16. FCJ*

    Congratulations on the new job, OP! And you sound like a levelheaded, knowledgeable, and kind person. I think if I were in Wakeen’s shoes the best thing I could hear from you is that you’re happy to be working *together* (as opposed to framing it as “I’m going to be your boss!” which is true but not the most diplomatic way to begin that relationship). Allison’s advice is obviously great, and I would only add that once you get into the role you can go a long way toward building goodwill with Wakeen and the rest of your team if you take some time to approach the situation somewhat neutrally and get to know the team dynamic as it is, rather than charging in on the horse of “the higher-ups hired me to make changes!” Your comments about what you suspect to be the case about the company’s issues with Wakeen make me think you’re already in that mindset, but the point is that you don’t need to tell Wakeen right off the bat that the leadership has expressed concerns about his performance to you. I think just a friendly “guess what!” and then, once in the role, a couple of weeks of neutral observation (as much as that might be possible) will go a long way toward preventing or mollifying any ongoing negative attitude on Wakeen’s part.

    All that said, you can’t actually control Wakeen’s behavior, obviously, and if he’s unwilling to reciprocate your goodwill you need to take steps. But at this point it sounds a little like you might be overthinking it (not a judgment! I would be too!). Best of luck!

  17. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Hey, OP, I read your update, and I think you’re probably in the best possible place, given Wakeen’s situation. So, okay, he’s angry about lack of transparency, but he specifically said that he wasn’t mad at you. To me, that’s pretty huge. It may take him a while to see where his mistakes are (or if he thinks they’re mistakes), but if he’s working with you and not being a giant baby, that’s a good sign. Keep moving forward. If he leaves, he leaves; but as long as you are treating him professionally and he seems to be doing the same with you, just hold on to that.

    1. CM*

      I agree — seems like things are going as well as they can for now, and you can deal with other issues as they come up.

  18. Ramona Flowers*

    I’d like to pick up on something different which is this:

    I’m a little baffled by this, because he’s genuinely knowledgeable, hardworking, and easy to get along with.

    It’s worth being careful not to view your own prior experiences of someone as immutable fact. You don’t know that this team have found him easy to get along with, even if you have in the past.

    The reason I’m flagging this is because – especially in light of the loyalty you already feel towards him – you might lose objectivity and overemphasise your own outside experience of him.

    You do have prior knowledge of him. But you also need to be observing him with fresh eyes.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      And he may be all those things, but not be good at managing people. As the OP is being brought in as a manager and not a subject matter expert, this may be what they are looking for.

      We all know or know of someone who has been promoted because they were knowledgeable and hardworking, but were not good at the people management thing.

  19. Red 5*

    One of the things my new boss has done that I found the most impressive and made me the most interested in working with him is that he came in before his official start date to say hi and specifically set up meetings with us to learn what we do and what we WANT to do. It showed he was coming in wanting to work with us, not force his own agenda on anything. I think that particular kind of wording and approach might be helpful even though you know Wakeen, you can say “hey, it’s been a while since I’ve worked here, I’d love to learn more about what you’ve been taking on lately, and if that’s where you really want to be heading so that I can make sure we’re using your best talents and you’re happy.”

  20. OP*

    I’m taking an approach of respectful and warm but not deferential with the whole team. I think the whole group was stunned by my hire. New hires at my level are usually interviewed by several people (although not necessarily their future direct reports), and the fact that a job is being filled is pretty open and transparent (job is publicly posted, announced in staff meeting, etc.).

    Being brought in without any of that is really unusual for this company. I thought a lot about whether that was a huge red flag, and decided that it was a medium red flag but also a great opportunity.

    I am worried about Wakeen or other team members leaving. Losing any team members, especially in the next 6 months, would be extremely difficult for the company. It might have been good for senior leaders to think through how to roll this out to minimize upset and reduce the chances of people leaving, but that ship has sailed. Now I need to figure out how to keep people engaged.

    1. Triplestep*

      I don’t think they are shocked because of the way your hiring went down; I think they are gobsmacked because they have been there the whole year you were gone – presumably working hard, trying to prove themselves, hoping for some upward mobility (especially Wakeem). What did you do in the last year to deserve a promotion and a raise? Sorry to be so blunt – it sounds like your leave of absence was much needed. But I’ve read all the comments here and I can’t believe this hasn’t come up. I think you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t acknowledge this. Your higher-ups likely thought of it, and maybe that’s why your hiring was so hush-hush. I would totally feel unappreciated were I a member of your team, and yes – I’d be updating my resume. Sorry.

      1. Sheronda Winfrey*

        I totally agree. I’m sure there’s a level of shock/surprise since by OP’s own account, his hiring was handled unconventionally regarding company norms– but from a team member’s POV, I think I’d be bitter for the exact reason you stated.

        OP, while your leave of absence was 100% justified and necessary, it isn’t like you left for a different job opportunity thus could claim professional growth or a new skill set during your time away. Even the most sympathetic person will likely view the situation as you “taking a year off” then picking up where you left off but with a higher title and salary. The way management handled makes it worse due to the lack of transparency. That has to sting and I’d likely have one foot out of the door as well.

      2. Former Employee*

        I really didn’t focus on that, either. However, after giving it some thought, I concluded that the OP probably had worked there for several years and had a sterling reputation. Otherwise, management wouldn’t have been so willing to accommodate OP’s special needs previously. That also means that it makes sense that management would subsequently reach out to the OP in this situation. Who better than someone they hold in high regard and who is familiar with the company and its workings to step into this somewhat awkward situation?

        1. Triplestep*

          I agree that the OP must have had a sterling reputation in order to be asked back, but the company did not make accommodations. I used the term “leave of absence” because that’s what it amounts to now with the re-hire. But the OP used the term “quit” in the letter’s first sentence. There was no plan at the time to return. So add to the other affronts to the team that the OP can afford to quit a job and not work for a year. I think it’s safe to assume that the team is composed of people who could not afford to do this, since most people need their salaries.

          OP, none of this is meant to cast doubt on your abilities or the trust your higher-ups have placed in you. I am not sure how to best address it, but I don’t think it can be swept under the rug.

  21. Peredur*

    I just want to say that I really love this answer, particularly the bit about not letting your nervousness make it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. Thank you Alison.

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