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How to Lead Peers

lead peers

Leading peers is difficult.  Some say it is the most challenging aspect of leadership.  You have no power over them, and they can choose to follow you or not. How do you get peers to move in a direction you desire?  Whether it's a business partner, church member, or volunteer group, your leadership is necessary to improve or make a difference in the organization.  The easy button is to make your opinion known and remain passive.  This approach is safe.  However, it is more difficult to exert your influence to make a positive change.

We live in a polarized moment in society.  Be it the election or your opinions of the response to Covid-19, we all see the same reality through a slightly different lens.  People are afraid to voice opinions or share perspectives.  It is easy for leaders to hold back and do nothing when confronted with another view. I call this act of avoidance leadership suppression.  And quite frankly, it is a problem.  Too many people are playing life safe and not utilizing skills and talent to make a difference with humanity on both a small scale and more extensive opportunities.

The essence of leadership is influence.  Any credible definition of leadership requires the word "influence." To have influence, we must build a relationship with those we hope to lead.  A relationship is the foundation of influence with someone.  Influence can be passive or active.  Passive influence occurs through our actions.  The words we choose, the behavior we model, and everything observed by others is passive influence.  Active influence requires interaction with another person.  Conversations, coaching, questions, and meetings are examples of active influence.

I am a fan of Gino Wickman's book Traction.  I help organizations better understand and embrace the EOS principles.  EOS is an acronym for Entrepreneurial Operating System as described brilliantly in Wickman's book.  I cannot require or make another business implement EOS.  However, I exert both passive and active influence on business leaders to become an organization that embraces traction principles.

In a peer setting, influence is challenging.  You have no control over others, and rank is equivalent.  Egos become more visible.  Your brain works very diligently with the "me-me-me" that lives in all people.  Unchecked, your ego can surface the worst in your peers as well.  We must suppress our ego first for our peers to hide their own.  Failing to do so creates antagonism and conflict with others.  They see our selfish motives and are immediately turn off or away.  Teams get destroyed, relationships become lost, and a three-letter word, ego, impacts businesses.  To retain influence on others, we must keep our ego in check.

We must support (not agree with) our peers' ideas and goals to remain relevant and in the circle of influence.  For example, your high-school honor graduate informs you that she is forsaking college to pursue a Nashville singing career.  Whether you agree or disagree with her decision, you must support her choice to remain in the conversation.  Here is another example.  Your friend decides to sell his business during a period of economic decline.  You disagree with his plan because you believe he will lose money.  You feel market conditions will negatively impact the value of his business.  To exert influence, you must remain in conversation with him.  Subdue your ego and stay in a position of influence.  You are still in his circle.  A dissenting opinion against his decision (without support) pushes you outside the circle of influence.  Make sense?

Another way to lead peers is to accept the more challenging tasks first.  In a peer environment, where work is shared, take the more difficult task for yourself.  This approach may seem counterintuitive; however, it promotes the law of reciprocity with your peers.  Shoulder the heavy load and take ownership of what is difficult.  Your peers see this and want to respond in kind.  There is a dichotomy involved.  If you go overboard, you seem self-promoting.  Follow your instinct on this, and you will be fine.

In a peer group, someone must own the horrible reality.  When you step up and take ownership among your peers, others will too.  Saying "it is on me" will often encourage others to do the same.  Guess what?  You are leading.  Taking ownership when things go wrong is not synonymous with taking the blame.  You can own the situation without owning causation.  Accepting something is broken does not mean you broke it.  Here too, we find another dichotomy.  Like taking on too much work in a peer setting, others can be offended if you attempt to fix every problem.  Maintain a balance between offering solutions and just listening to a peer express a difficult situation.

If a peer's ego is the problem, it is easy to get caught in a trap by attacking them. He's a showboat sound familiar?  Your ego fuels this retribution.  You feel an overwhelming urge to put them in check.  Resist this urge.  Take the high ground and continue to do fantastic work.  This discipline will lead to stronger relationships and build influence with others.  When you seem unaffected by someone's self-aggrandizement, your peers admire you for resisting the same urge they are feeling.

Whether you support your peers directly or indirectly, you have an influence.  You may not know it, and you may not feel it.  Remain humble.  Your humility is an example to others.  It is a passive influence by taking ownership of problems, and others will do so as well.  There is a two-door system to enter my office building.  When I wait and hold the door for someone to walk through, they, in turn, open the second door for me.  That small act of kindness causes others to reciprocate.  Give credit to others, and it will come back to you in the form of relationships.  People desire to be around givers.  It is instinctual for us as humans.  Think of leading peers this way.  Influence builds relationships, and relationships promote influence.  In the center of this circle is leadership.  That position inside the circle is where you need to be to lead peers.