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Safe Space #7: I’m managing my best friend

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Welcome to the Safe Space – where managers can share their issues, and gain advice from top learning & development consultants.

Here at =mc we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature we share some of those challenges, and our advice, for dealing with them.

This time, the issue comes from a Programme Manager in a small UK charity. The =mc consultants offer advice on a difficult issue which you may well identify with: making the move into management, and handling relationship changes along the way.

What’s the issue?

Hi there, I’ve recently been promoted into a management role in a relatively small charity and I’m feeling a bit awkward about it. I’ve been working here since I left Uni and I love the charity. We are small but mighty, and I’ve always been proud of our work. There are 30 of us in total, and recently the CEO retired. This led to lots of changes in roles at the top – with my line manager moving into the CEO role, and then a couple of new people coming in. This of course left a bit of a gap and I was asked to apply for the role of manager by my boss. I was thrilled, and very excited to be considered worthy of the position. The role was advertised, all fair and square. But what I didn’t realise was that my best-work-friend was going to go for it too. To be honest, I’m super surprised she didn’t get it. She is awesome at her job, very friendly, and has been a manager at a different organisation. But for some reason they went with me – and now I just feel a bit weird about it. I feel guilty for my friend, whilst also proud of myself. So, to make things a bit better, I’ve been bringing her into some project discussions and delegating work to her. But I don’t know if I’m doing enough.  I don’t know how to be around her, and thankfully everything is online at the moment. However, it looks like we are soon going to be working closely again as the office is opening up again, and I want to make sure she is comfortable with me. What should I do?

Two mugs tied together


What our consultants say


Well, first of all congratulations on the new role! Stepping into management is no small thing, and clearly this is an exciting move for you. How wonderful to be at a charity you love, and can shine in. This is great news! Any new manager will tell you that this transition is a challenging period in your career, and can bring up all kinds of emotions. Hopefully this helps you to see that what you are experiencing is both common and normal. One of the tricky parts about this will be how to engage with your friend. I can see you are working closely together on a project and are delegating work to them. Be a little careful of this – it could lead you to singling out this colleague, and leaning on them a bit too much, perhaps even to the detriment of others. This may look like you have a favourite which could make other people feel left out. To avoid this, think about ways in which you can work on different projects with different members of your team, and ensure you delegate work fairly to different people.


As Charlie says, this is a great achievement. Well done! Thanks for sharing your feelings about this situation. What strikes me is that you don’t talk about her reaction at all, and so I’m not clear about how your colleagues feels in all this. She could be sad about the missed opportunity, happy that you are her boss, and lots of other things in between. It may be useful to ask her – how do you feel about this? How can I help you? Is there anything I’m doing that you find unhelpful? Gathering feedback from your colleague via an open conversation can help overcome any discomfort you both feel. Then you can consider the right approach. I also recommend you focus a bit on building your confidence in your new role. You say you are surprised about your success and yet your manager clearly believes you are the best person for the job. So, take some time to reflect on why that is. What is unique about your knowledge, skills, experiences and insights? How will these help you in the role? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, ask for more feedback from your manager – why did they give you this opportunity? What are they expecting you to bring to the role?


Building on what Laura has said, I would agree. This is fantastic and now you get to be a brilliant manager. Being a great manager means focussing on what your team need from you, how you can add value for them. When it comes to this colleague, consider how you can help her develop. That way, whenever the next opportunity comes along for her, she will be ready. Whether she stays at the same charity or makes a move elsewhere, you can support her career aspirations. This is not about making you feel better or helping her out of your feelings of guilt. This is about being the best manager you can be – supporting her, giving her time to develop and grow. I recommend taking a coaching approach: ask lots of questions, get to know her in a different way, and empower her to find her own way forward. This will also help you reset the relationship – you are not a BFF, nor a bossy boss. Instead, your role is that of an understanding manager who can offer support, space and a sounding board.


And congratulations from me too! I know this is hard. I have made this same transition several times over my career, and I know there can be feelings of loss as well as excitement when you manage your former friends. As tough as it is, that is also the way you have to think about it. Your relationship needs to change now, and you will need to set boundaries in that relationship. You will not be able to share information like you used to, or ask for help in the same way. It’s hard. This doesn’t mean becoming unfriendly or cutting your pal off in anyway – as Philly says you can step into the space of coach rather than confident. You can be a champion for her rather than her comrade. It may also help you to think about other relationships you can now build. If you feel like you need someone to confide in, to share ideas with, or to bounce ideas off, are there new peers you can reach out to? You mentioned new people coming in – maybe they can be a source of support for you, and you for them too.

What’s next?

If you’d like to explore ways of handling for situations like this, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.

Finally, if you’re facing a challenge you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on While we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.

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Charlotte Scott

About Charlie Scott

Charlie specialises in leadership development, team facilitation and strategy development. Charlie worked for over 20 years in the not-for-profit sector. Before joining =mc ten years ago, she created and...