Many managers in dealerships move from working as a part of a team to managing that same team. You may have done this yourself or need to coach someone in that situation who has been promoted.

The successful transition from being a strong team player to being an exceptional manager requires skillfully changing your relationships in three areas: down, across and up.

Down — Your New Team

Successfully moving from “one of the guys” to “the boss” requires balance. You must establish authority skills while preserving camaraderie skills.

To establish authority skills means establishing new rights about who can make decisions — you or your employees. In setting new roles you will be tested by the team. Figuring out how to successfully pass the test will likely occur early in your new role and will require foresight, preparation, will power and emotional intelligence. It is common for a lower performer on the team to test to a new manager to see if they have the gumption to hold them accountable.

To preserve camaraderie skills means maintaining the ability to communicate and empathize with your former colleagues. Continuing to connect with your former peers in your new role requires that you ask questions like:

  • What are your concerns?
  • How can I help you?
  • Where do you want to get to from here?

Preserving camaraderie skills also means being able to define your expectations for your former colleagues in your new role. The definitions for your new relationship results in answers to statements like:

  • What I need from you. What I expect.
  • What I liked about how our old boss worked and what I’ll strive to repeat.
  • How I will be different from our old boss.

Here is an example of a situation that requires balance between authority and camaraderie.

A new parts manager, let’s call him John, is now managing his former parts counterperson colleague Jake. Over the years they became close. He knew Jake cut corners at times and complained about “management,” but it never got in the way of their good working relationship. Jake is a good thinker and a good guy. One month into the new role, Jake takes a pre-scheduled day off for a fishing trip with extended family on a Friday.

On Sunday John gets a call. Jake says he needs to stay another day and drive back Monday because his wife’s uncle’s second wife is sick and they need to be there for the family. John has that bad feeling that this is really about another day of fishing. Hesitant, John says he’ll get back to Jake. He calls Jake’s parts counterperson colleague Alison to let her know she might be working the counter alone tomorrow. She is a younger, very talented and motivated person who got hired last year. She “rolls her eyes” through the phone.

John must establish his authority while being sensitive to his relationship with Jake. To simply agree to Jake’s request could hurt his ability to manage both people. To rigidly insist Jake return to work could also damage his relationship.

There’s no easy answer, but both factors must be balanced. One middle ground option would be to say, “Jake, I’m new in my role here. I’ve got a challenge. I want to respect your family issue, but I really need you Monday. How can we work this out so we both get what we need?”

Across — Your Peer Managers

Successfully moving from “team player” to “management team member” requires building new relationships and sorting out linkages between departments and among people.

To build new bridges means actively connecting with your new peers — other department managers. You need to get to know them at a deeper level. Ask them what it’s been like dealing with your area. Ask if they have any concerns or requests for how the two teams, and the two managers, will partner. Don’t promise the moon, but get access to their concerns.

Ask them to come to you first if there are any issues with people in your department and promise them you’ll do the same. Show them you mean it by moving beyond “us and them.” In many dealerships there is tension between departments. Exceptional managers reduce this tension rather than reinforce it. Be open minded, proactive and “walk the talk” by focusing on fixing the problem not the blame.

Managing across also involves setting a tone with your own team. To ensure that you are not in the middle between your employees and another department, you should do these things:

  • Connect: Ask your new direct reports to state what is working well between departments (or people) and what isn’t.
  • Challenge: Hold them accountable to be part of the solution.
  • Ask: What is the other department up against in dealing with us?
  • Manager-to-Manager: Skillfully address the problems and possible solutions with your new peers.

We sometimes hear alarming statements like, “We don’t talk to those guys” or he’s “gone over to their side.” A successful new manager has to establish that his job is to benefit the entire organization. If you do, sometimes you’re accused of betrayal. Address this directly saying, “I’m still with you guys, but I need to make things better between our teams. We’re not innocent in the challenges we’ve had with them.” The best team members see the larger good and the accusers will quiet down in time.

Up — Your Boss

Of all the relationships that will define a new manager’s success, this is the biggest, and it will also play a huge role in success with the first two. Your direct reports and peers will notice the quality of your rapport with your boss.

The relationship with your boss will start with the hiring process and should become more detailed once hired. Schedule an hour with your boss and ask him these questions:

  • What is the history of my area?
  • What does it take to be an exceptional manager here?
  • What are your biggest dreams and concerns about my area?
  • What do you want to see improve?
  • Share any concerns you have about my success, even if they’re small.
  • How do you see my area collaborating with the other areas? What’s mine to decide about my area and what do I need to run past you?
  • Request a monthly dedicated meeting to discuss progress.

Regular open communication with your boss early on will build a strong relationship and make it much more likely that you’ll succeed as a manager.

Building three strong directional relationships will contribute greatly to your success. It will allow you to:

  • Rapidly transition into the role of a good leader of your area,
  • Expand productivity with your peers in other departments,
  • Earn the respect and rewards from your boss.