In the last post I covered how members of a team can effectively contribute and show leadership among a team or group. In this post I want to share my experience and recommendation for leading your equals, or leading your peers. I don’t recall ever seeing anything on this topic and have had to learn this through some hard lessons. I chose the cartoon on the left because peer leadership can be awkward, and sometimes both the leader and those being led, feel a bit out of place.
My largest experience on this topic comes from an Operations oriented accountability group that I started in 2010, called the Operations Superstars. In this group we have 25+, C-level executives of different companies in the IT services industry. The purpose of the group is to create processes and procedures around delivering IT services and managing the operations of a company that delivers such services.
The group’s name is Operations Superstars with a motto of “Execute or Be Executed.” In the group everyone is expected to deliver and do their part. Organizing the group was a little different. I was not interested in getting 25 people on a phone call and hashing away at a process. So I divided the group into teams, with 4 to 6 members and called a team leader for each team.
This strategy has produced some amazing results. I assumed this would not be a problem with the highly motivated individuals that I had in the group, but I found that leading individuals of equal or greater experience than oneself, presents some different challenges. Some of those challenges include: pride, insecurity, delegation problems, inability to hold others accountable, inability to connect, lack of training and not practicing basic leadership basics. Let’s dive right into these.
I think I have struggled with this one the most; pride, while understandibly difficult to recognize, I think has presented the biggest hurdle. Get a bunch of highly motivated and charged individuals to attack a problem and you are bound to have people that think their way of doing things is the best and only way.
There are a couple ways that I attacked this. First off was to stay tied to our vision and purpose. When you can stay focused on the core objective, it closes off some of the paths for ideas that really are just project creep and that do not apply to what is being accomplished. It is easier to swallow that, one’s idea is a good one but just does not fit within the scope of a project, than that one’s idea is just a bad one. Secondly, foster positive conflict. Positive conflict is one of the greatest tools for overcoming a wide range of problems in a team. If everyone is on-board with this, the group as a whole will accept all ideas, but as a whole will choose the ones that will work best for the objective at hand. I have found that this helps curb pride the most because it takes away any wrong doing from the individual and puts it all on the team.
This one caught me by surprise. But when I finally caught it I realized it was a pretty big problem. Peers do not want to look stupid in front of their peers. The product of this is people do not freely give their opinion, the project suffers and team members get unevenly stacked with work. Having a clear project plan, fostering positive conflict and letting everyone know how important they are to the group as a whole, have helped to overcome this trait.
It is easy giving a task to a direct report. You are their “boss.” Take a CEO out of their role and throw him/her into a group where they are now the follower can be a bit tough. And on that note, many of the team leaders in this situation feel a bit insecure to be giving tasks to someone that is as equal as, or greater of a success than you. One’s natural order of authority can be thrown off balance in this scenario. It has been important to remind everyone of our purpose and vision. A team leader must realize that there is a job to do and without everyone’s help in that job, the project will fail. A leader must “suck it up”, and be the leader to the team that their direct reports expect them to be at their own companies. A team leader can also find this easier if he/she strives to get to know each of the individuals of the team and their particular situations. Making that deeper connection can make it easier to give tasks out and to hold them accountable if they do not produce. No one wants to let someone down that they have a connection with.
Accountability is probably the most miss-understood “buzz-word” of leadership. I personally like the definition from one of my favorite books, The Oz Principle, by Tom Smith, Roger Connors and Craig Hickman. They say accountability is: “A Personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results…” If a leader and everyone on a team can understands that, great things can be accomplished.
Accountability in a team means you do what you committed to doing. And everyone must hold everyone accountable for their commitments. It is understandable that stuff will happen and “things” will get thrown at you unrelated to the project that can cause much distress. If one is committed to doing something, then one should do everything they can to complete it or should give advance notice and ask for help. A leader needs to be confident enough to confront others that are not fulfilling their commitments. This might be better done publicly or privately depending on the circumstance. Also as the leader, you best be completing your assignments, if you want others to complete theirs.
One of the perplexing things I have experienced in this group is when team leaders fail to use basic leadership skills when leading their peers. Skills such as respect, following project plans, properly planning, properly running a meeting, proper organization, communication and many other skills seem to degrade when one is leading their peers. I am not sure if this is related to insecurity or if the leader just wants to be “friends” with everyone, but as a leader, you must remember that you have a job to do and doing that job magnificently will gain you more respect among your peers than anything else. Your name will forever be tied to that project or that group, make sure that the team and future peers can look back and think “Wow, what a project, I wish I had, had the opportunity to serve on that team.”
I am sure there are a many other skills that could be employed in these situations, but I think that they can be summed up in these 5 categories, that really breakdown into many more. The skills of great leadership work in almost any situation. The Operations Accountability group has been one of the most fulfilling things I have done professionally and has produced some amazing results for the companies involved.
Please comment below if you have any additional thoughts. I would also like to put a call-out to all my current and some past peers in this group; they are all great people and run great organizations.
- Matt Jurcich (President/CEO – Invisik Corporation)
- David Davis (President/CEO – StarPoint IT Solutions)
- Michele Miller (President/CEO – Enersystems, Inc.)
- Greg Cordle (VP of Operations – Business Systems Solutions, Inc.)
- Randy Hall (President/CEO – WorldLan Technology)
- Bonnie Grace (VP of Operations & Finance – ThinkTech, Inc.)
- Pam Viveros (President/CEO – ThinkTech, Inc.)
- Darin Schoumaker (President/CEO – ManagedNet, Inc.)
- Tim Foster (President/CEO – Network Management Services, Inc.)
- Tim Shea (President/CEO – Alpha NetSolutions, Inc.)
- Fred Reck (President/CEO- InnoTek, Inc.)
- Mike Hopkins (President/CEO – Dev Source, Inc.)
- Mike Fowler (President – Capstone IT, Inc.)
- Lliam Holmes (CEO – MIS Solutions, Inc.)
- Doug Hulme (President/CEO – Consolidated Business Systems, Inc.)
- Patrick Murphy (Service Manager – eGuard Technology Services, Inc.)
- Khaled Farhang (President/CEO – eGuard Technology Services, Inc.)
- Mike Mercier (Service Manager – PC Miracles, Inc.)
- Dan Izydorek (President/CEO- PC Miracles, Inc.)
- Jeff Eisenhower (Service Manager – Connections for Business, Inc.)
- David Bennett (President/CEO – Connections for Business, Inc.)
- Ian Apruzzese (Service Manager – RKL & Associates)
- Rodney LeBlanc (President/CEO – RKL & Associates)
- Matt Carter (President/CEO – PC Medivac, Inc.)
- Mark Marley (President/CEO – Network Computer Solutions, Inc.)
- Beverly Kile (President/CEO – TCL Technologies, Inc.)
- Stephen Swavley (President/CEO –Navigatum IT)
- Mike Mellot (President/CEO – XperTechs)
- Wendy Panor (Accounting/Operations Manager – Digital Architects, Inc.)
- Jeannie Richardson (President/CEO – Digital Architects, Inc.)
- Daniel Wang (President/CEO – Chicago Computer Club)
- Butch Cowart (President/CEO – TechServ Online, Inc.)