Peer to Peer: managing sideways relationships

Posted October 28, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

Peer to peer - not the focusFormer city councilor Rob Ford has set heads spinning in Toronto with his mayoral race victory.  Perhaps one of the luckiest breaks for Ford has been some of the upsets and turnovers that have occurred on city council.  Ford was known as a combative councilor who made few friends amongst his peer group.  Pundits speculate that, if more incumbents had been re-elected, Ford would have found himself in a much tougher position than he already is.  It’s easy to spend a lot of attention managing up or down, but how much attention are you putting into your sideways relationships?

Arguably one of the toughest career moves is the transition from peer to boss. And, this is true whether you’re moving from frontline to your first supervisory role or, as is the case for many of our members, from Director to VP or above.  You can make the transition easier, or harder, depending on what you do in the years and months leading up to your big promotion.  Here are my (potentially politically incorrect) views on how to navigate leadership peer-to-peer relationships for those aspiring to take a step up the next rung of leadership ladder.

  1. Start by being clear with yourself about your ambitions: frankly, not everyone wants to move up a level, but thinking about the realities of where you want to take your leadership career will help you decide how to build the relationships you need with your “future” peers from day one.
  2. Identify your allies: transitioning to leading your management level peers will be easier if you’ve got some people on your side to begin with.  Find the peers who are content to stay where they are and start building your alliances early.  Not everyone’s going to be jumping for joy when you get the position that they wanted, so having some people on your bus will help.
  3. Get your friendship fix outside of work: Leadership can be lonely and it’s easy to turn your Director-level peer group into your social circle. Maintaining supportive and friendly peer relationships can create a sense of camaraderie, but turning peer groups into group therapy can make transitioning to the next level more challenging.
  4. Look long-term at the effects of your short-term battles: the reality of peer relationships at the leadership level is that they are often competitive.  While you’re competing to get more budget, headcount, resources for your team, the guy in marketing is doing the same.  Acting like an island where your interests are all that count may get you the short-term results you want, but pause to think about the effects over the long-term when these people report to you.  Sometimes the battle is worth it and other times it won’t be.
  5. Don’t be naïve to the politics of getting ahead: political maneuvering happens at all levels, but peer-to-peer politics, where people may be vying for the same promotion, can be even tougher.  Use caution when sharing concerns or vulnerabilities with your peer group.  You don’t want to be disadvantaged because of information that you’ve confided gets used against you. (Re-read point 3).

I once worked with a guy who had spent huge hours managing up and getting his direct reports to love him.  He treated his peers like they were complete idiots.  After he got promoted to a new level in the organization, his former peers saw the opportunity to throw him under the bus.  As the saying goes, leadership is earned, not given.  The peer group banded together and created so much friction that this guy eventually lost his job.  If he had put half the energy into building the right relationships, he probably could have gone on to become the CEO.

If you thought the influence of peer pressure ended in high school, think again.  Let’s see how Rob Ford does mending his fractured peer relationships as he assumes the Mayors seat in Toronto.   And, what fence do you want to start mending now, before you need it mended?

Happy leading!


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  1. […] As I’ve blogged before about Rob Ford, his past behaviour is a mirror reflection of his current behaviour.  Just as the existing slew of potential Mayoral candidates past behaviours will be predictive of their future behaviours as well. […]