The pervasive nature of peer influence is as plain as the nose on your face. While there are countless studies on the subject, you don’t need a pile of them to tell you what your life has shown you time and time again. You’ve been influenced by the people around you for as long as you can remember. Your parents likely cared about who you selected as friends when you were growing up – and for good reason. They understood all too well how people can drag us down, hold us at bay and, under the best of circumstances, lift us up. They realized that quotes such as: “We’re all in the same boat,” “Great minds think alike,” and “Bird of feather flock together” are more than just simple expressions.
We influence one another as adults as well. We rely on our peers, co-workers, family members, etc. to help us discover meaning in whatever situation or circumstances we may find ourselves. Whether we want to buy a book or a car, we look beyond what the manufacturer and professional reviewers have to say. We look to our peers to learn about their experiences and findings. Interestingly enough, when we do so online, we accept the prevailing sentiment of the crowd as a powerful data point in our decision-making process, despite the fact that we may not know any of the individuals offering their opinions. And according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, our most trusted source of company information and what it means for us is our co-worker – not the CEO or senior leadership team member – the people who sit beside us. Our peers matter and they matter huge!
From Peer Influence to Peer Advantage
Since peer influence is such a powerful and pervasive force, it stands to reason that we should pay attention to how to maximize it. The road from peer influence to peer advantage is simple, but not easy. It’s simple because it’s all about being intentional. If you can be more selective, strategic and structured about the people with whom you surround yourself, you can walk the path to experiencing the benefits of peer advantage. People accomplish this in very different ways, both formally and informally.
One example for CEOs is joining a mastermind group comprised of other CEOs from non-competing industries. Consider also a group of women CEOs who share the unique challenges and opportunities inherent in this role. (The point is to find a group with members who bring different experiences yet share a common bond). If you’re like most CEOs (man or woman), you have plenty of people and groups of people who are willing to give you advice and hold you accountable. The problem is none of them typically understand what it’s like to sit in your chair, as you are challenged each and every day to make short and long-term decisions for the entire organization.
By working with other CEOs, you can help each other address your toughest challenges and embrace your most exciting opportunities. You will also become acquainted with practices that may be commonplace in one industry, yet completely foreign to yours. As a result, you’ll discover new ways of seeing the world and leading your company. Moreover, in the same way Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond describes what is found to be true for teachers, collaborating with peers tends to find its way into helping you lead healthier and more collaborative environments. Turns out that the same holds true for the office as it does the classroom.
Peernovation as an Outcome of Peer Advantage
Peer•no•va•tion (pir-nə-ˈvā-shən) combines the words peer (people like me) and innovation (creativity realized). Peernovation is what happens when a group of people who share common values, yet offer different perspectives and skills bring ideas to life. This is where peer advantage bears fruit.
As the proverb goes, “none of us is as smart as all of us” and none of us is as creative as all of us either. I’ve been fortunate on countless occasions to have led and been a member of teams who produced outstanding work for our clients. Any member of any of these teams (me included of course) would readily admit that there was no individual in the room who would have ever come up with the same high level of work if left to their own devices. Put a group of talented people with different skills sets and experiences in a room who are relentless about achieving a quality outcome and watch out! Teams like these are what separate great companies from good ones.
Achieving peernovation based solely on the intention of leveraging peer influence through peer advantage, doesn’t happen by accident. It requires leaders who recognize that an organization’s strength doesn’t come solely from it’s vertical organizational structure. It’s what runs horizontally that gives strength and stability to what’s vertical. Leaders who recognize the power of peer influence, and who are deliberate in harnessing its power, are capable of creating a Stage 5 company culture, as described in the book Tribal Leadership. The authors (Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright) describe Stage 5 not as a culture that seeks to be at the top of its industry, but as a force of nature that sets its own standard of excellence, industry notwithstanding.
The world is changing quickly. The advent of AI and other emerging technologies will require us to access the power of our human resources more than ever. Doing so will begin with recognizing three things: 1) None of us can successfully meet tomorrow’s challenges by ourselves; 2) peer influence is a powerful force; and 3) our organizations are better when we recognize that its strength runs horizontally. It’s hard to imagine a better time to pull everyone together and start setting your own standard of excellence.
Written by Leo Bottary.
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