You’ve been working toward the top spot for years. Now that you are the CEO, you have to lead your former colleagues, even some who might not be all that thrilled at the prospect. What do you do?

One CEO in our study confided that he faced an especially tricky situation; some of his former peers were older and more experienced than he was. “I needed a plan of approach in dealing with them. I wish I had coaching on how to manage former peers. Suddenly, all relationships changed once I received that promotion.”

Aside from the challenge of dealing with peers upset that they did not get the job, leading them can be challenging when the new CEO realizes they have to turn things over that they personally enjoyed and did well.  The CEO must work hard to avoid falling back into old patterns and trust that their peers are doing these things equally well. 

Redefine Relationships

CEOs in our study suggested a variety of solutions. One quickly took to dinner two colleagues who had been passed over for the top job; this provided a forum to talk openly about the relationship, the past, and what was needed for the future. Another took his leadership team off-site. “I wanted to change up the dynamics of our team,” he explained. “I felt it was key, especially with my peers who were not selected for the CEO job. All of us went through our delicacies, but in the end, we worked well together because we committed to do so and because it was the best thing for the company.”

However you choose to do it, you will need to redefine relationships with each one of your former peers. In some cases, this will require that you let go of parts of your past relationship. Be clear about this with your former peers, and don’t hesitate to set new boundaries for your future dealings. Do this soon to show that you are not afraid to address issues now, even if you have avoided them in the past. And try taking symbolic action to show that the game has changed.

Help Them Stay

If one or more of your peers was a candidate for the CEO role, recognize that they might be in the process of deciding whether or not to leave the company. If staying makes sense, become personally involved in convincing them to remain as fully contributing members of the senior team. Go out of your way to tell them privately and to demonstrate publicly that you value their talents and contributions. Make your support for them obvious and undeniable.

Address the Problem

Leading former peers is seldom trouble-free, and outcomes will vary. You’ll stand your best chance of success by taking a positive and proactive approach to the situation. If you can, reset the relationship. People do this all the time in their private lives. You as a new CEO can do it with team members as well.

More on the CEO study can be found in the book Preparing CEOs For Success “What I Wish I Knew”.  For more information, visit the CLG Bookstore.

And, for more information about CLG Executive Advisors and the support they provide to CEOs, c-suite executives, and high potentials on issues such as leadership, strategy execution, succession, new leader transition, change implementation, and teamwork among senior teams visit the CLG Executive Advisor section of the website.