Would Your Peers Vote for You?

Most managers have taken a 360 degree leadership assessment at some point in their careers. You know, those surveys that are sent to your manager, direct reports, and peers, asking everyone to rate your leadership behaviors.

When you get your results, and tear open the report, begin to analyze the numbers, graphs, and comments, which rater groups do you tend to pay the most attention to?

Having debriefed over 1000 of these, and taken them myself, if you’re like most managers, you tend to zero in on your how your manager and your employees rate you. After all, your employee scores should be the most accurate reflection of your leadership capabilities, and let’s face it, at the end of the day, you’d better be meeting your manager’s expectations, right?

Well, here’s something that may convince you to pay more attention to those peer ratings and more importantly, change the way you relate to your peers.

A few years ago, I attended an executive development program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School called Leadership for Extraordinary Performance. We were all required to do a 360 assessment as a part of the program, using the Leadership Practices Inventory. As we reviewed the results in class, the instructors, Jack and Carol Weber, told us about a piece of research they did. Having conducted hundreds of these programs using the LPI, they decided to do a study to see which rater group – manager, direct reports, or peers – were the most significant predictors of promotability. They tracked down program graduates to see who had been promoted, and compared their 360 scores to those that had not been. The results were surprising them; but by now you’ve probably guessed the answer – it was peers!

That was a wake-up call for me, and changed the way I work with my peers and how I think about leadership development.

Scott Eblin, executive coach and author of the book “The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success”, says that newly promoted senior executives need to “look up, down, and sideways”. Most score well on the first two – working with their bosses and direct reports. But they often fail to look left and right; they don’t collaborate with peer department heads. And that’s a big mistake, according to Eblin. Leaving peers out of the decision making process eventually gets managers in trouble, and is a key reason why newly promoted execs fail the senior level.

Patrick Lencioni, consultant and author of the book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, has a similar perspective on the importance of peers. He says every manager has two teams; the one they lead, and the one they are a part of (their manager’s). Lencioni claims your #1 team as a manager should be your manager’s team, not your own. Our employees want us to work well with other departments, to remove silos and barriers that stand in the way of their success. When this doesn’t happen, they end up paying the price.

I see the power of peer respect and credibility play out in succession planning all the time. When I work with managers on their development plans, I’ll often ask them to think of a peer that that they see as a role model for a specific leadership competency (i.e., leadership presence, leading change, influence), and someone they would be willing to learn from. I’ve noticed they all tend to come up with the same few names. And those highly sought after managers are the very same ones at the top of our high potential lists, which end up getting promoted to the next level.

Are you convinced that you may want to re-think how you relate to your peers yet? If so, here’s 10 ways to get started:

1. Don’t try to outshine your peers with your manager. Instead, go out of your way to give them credit and point out their strengths and accomplishments.

2. Ask yourself: “Would my peers elect me to be their next leader?” If not, ask why, and commit to resolving those issues.

3. Start being an advocate for your peer’s work. People expect you to champion your own department and projects; they’ll be surprised when you take a stand for someone else’s pet project.

4. Don’t act or be siloed. Share information, ask for your peers input, and look for ways to collaborate and solve enterprise-wide problems.

5. Passionately defend your peers behind their backs. I know an executive that always said the sign of a healthy team is if they would get into a bar fight for each other.

6. Interact with every peer as if they are as competent and committed as you are.

7. Pay attention to your peers at meeting – listen as if they were your manager. Try watching the body language of your peers at meetings, and you’ll see what I mean by this. When your manager makes a joke, everyone laughs, right? Give your peers that same level of attention.

8. Have regular meetings with your peers to understand their goals, resolve issues, share your agendas, and to help each other out. These meetings can be brief (15 minutes) and informal, but go a long way in building trust.

9. Form “peer coaching” relationships with your peers. Pick something that each of you is good and the other one wants to get better at, and commit to learning from each other.

10. Lastly, don’t run around trying to act like your peer’s leader. You’re not, and you’ll come off being obnoxious. I’ve seen this happen when a “high potential” gets wind that they may be one of their manager’s successors. Although it’s done unconsciously and well intended, the reaction is usually “who the hell died and made you boss?”

Try it. Start showing up differently with your peers today. You’ll be a more complete leader, your peers will thank you for it, and you might even get promoted.