TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].
I’ve recently been promoted, for which I give thanks to God, both for my abilities and my opportunities. But I’m finding the transition challenging, especially since I need to manage my former colleagues. I understand why it’s hard for them to respect me—in some cases, they know more than I do! What’s the best way to approach this?
First, congratulations on your promotion! It’s right to give thanks to God as the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). You’re also right that God is the provider of your abilities and talents.
During the first 10 years of my army career, I saw four rapid promotions. Each time, I managed people who had formerly been my peers. And each time, I knew it was God who was opening doors for me.
Before I directly address your concerns, it may help to understand what your promotion means.
God’s Purposes in Promotion
In this new promotion, God is fulfilling several purposes.
First, God in his sovereignty places leaders when and where he needs them to be (Prov. 8:15). In the army, where I served for 20 years on active duty and have continued to work in a civilian capacity, individuals are promoted not due to accomplishments alone but because of their potential to serve at the next highest grade.
In your case, your employer must have seen your potential to manage others who do what you did. You may not yet be the best leader for your team, but someone thinks you have the capacity to grow into it. Even if you don’t yet have reason to feel confident in your leadership skills, you can trust that God will give you what you need.
Even if you don’t yet have reason to feel confident in your leadership skills, you can trust that God will give you what you need.
Second, God is providing financially. As we seek God, he blesses us far beyond our expectations. He opens doors for us that sometimes lead to raises in pay. A larger paycheck is an opportunity to praise God, budget wisely, and give generously.
Third, God is preparing you for greater works. This almost certainly means caring for a larger group of employees but could also mean doing something extraordinary. Like Esther, you may be raised up “for such a time as this” (Est. 4:14).
As you learn to be faithful in the little things, you’ll be ready to be faithful in much greater things (Luke 16:10). Although there will be hard work ahead, never forget the promise of God’s presence in your work. Since he’s called you to it, he’ll see you through it and will work in and through you.
Pay Heed to Yourself
I understand that you’re concerned about how your former peers are going to treat you in your new role as their boss. You want, need, and deserve their respect. You expect a change in relationship and may be worried that the transition will be somewhat awkward and uncomfortable for all involved.
However, I want to challenge you to be more concerned about how you’re going to treat your team members than how they’re going to treat you. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi to consider others’ needs as more important than their own (Phil. 2:3–4). This was, of course, based on the humility of Jesus (Phil. 2:5–8).
If you focus your efforts on treating team members with dignity and respect, and build on their strengths rather than harp on their weaknesses, they’ll respond to your servant leadership.
We know leaders need to relate in some way to every team member. However, I’ve discovered that everyone must also relate to each other, not just the boss. Shepherds who want to be wise are exhorted to pay close attention to their flocks (Prov. 27:23). If we’re to be attentive shepherds of our team, we need to ensure they get along with each other.
Be more concerned about how you’re going to treat your team members than how they’re going to treat you.
I have given much time and energy to team building over the past 14 years because the turnover among military personnel in my office has been frequent. In my experience, one of the best ways to facilitate relationships between personnel that represent diverse demographics is to assign them to work on a project together.
In addition to deliberately finding ways for team members to cooperate on a mission and creating a family atmosphere of mutual care and concern, I also recommend focusing your attention on building up your employees in the same manner a shepherd would care for his sheep.
- Get to know each team member on a personal level, including their families.
- Don’t be threatened by those with strengths you don’t possess. Put them to work—give them opportunities to mentor others or take the lead on a project.
- Counsel team members in private to assist them with overcoming their weaknesses.
- Pray for your teammates (and your bosses too).
A good friend recently reminded me of what Moses said to Joshua as he transferred his responsibilities for the Israelites. Joshua was probably reluctant to take this heavy load on his shoulders. Moses told him the one thing he needed to hear—that the success of this new mission was not his alone to bear. “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31:8).