Building Social Capital with Peers

by | Feb 20, 2021 | Blog

Do your peers ask for your input and perspective?

The Importance of Working with Peers

We start by watching this 3-minute management tip from Harvard Business Review by Lynda Gratton.

Lynda Gratton is a London Business School professor and co-author ofThe 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.” She also has an interesting article published with the Harvard Business Review entitled,The Third Wave of Virtual Work.”

We feel her research is important and helps underscore our feelings on the importance of working with peers. In this post we discuss mechanics of working directly with peers.

Responding to Peer Requests

If your social capital is building across your peer network you’ll know because peers will begin to ask you for your point of view and for your help. New leaders may be tempted to see those requests as an annoying imposition on their own time given the that they are busy with their own problems. However, that point of view can be short-sighted. The more people, especially your peers, engage you the more you are gaining social power in the organization.

Rise by Collaborating

The more you “rise” in an organization the more you are expected to collaborate with peers. The reason for this is simple. The more senior you become the more complicated and multi-dimensional the leadership and organizational business problems become. There are two important reasons why we collaborate with peers.

Your Strategic Projects are at Risk

Frequently, senior leaders deal with problems that require cross-divisional collaboration, or at the very least, cross-divisional consultation. Research shows that one of the most significant blockers to achieving strategic objectives is the way priorities across divisions differ [1]. A strategic objective in one division may need support from resources in another division. If your social capital is low, that division may under-value your project and prioritize low the work they do that is important to you. This puts your strategic projects at risk.

Collaborating is an Executive Skill

Additionally, top executive teams constantly work on problems together. Top executive teams surround themselves with peers who they feel will help contribute to the success of their mutual objectives. Learning how to carve time out of your schedule to be supportive of peer-based projects or peer concerns is an important part of the executive leadership journey. Great leadership teams are comprised of great people who care about each other.

Asking for Peer Help

Sometimes new leaders are hesitant to engage their peers in their own problems because they feel that might reveal weakness or a lack of competence. The truth is there are many organizational situations where the only way a problem can get solved is if the peer network is engaged. Organizational problems are complex and cut across matrices and silos of competing interests and agendas. Asking a peer for their insight is not an admission of weakness. On the contrary, asking a peer for insight shows maturity and organizational savvy.

Naturally, there is an important balance that needs to be struck. Be careful not to overwhelm a peer with your problems. Focus on those areas where there are potential intersections between you and your peer, or on areas where there are opportunities to help the overall organization/company. 

As you build your peer network you will find trusted relationships that develop over time. All leaders experience times when it is valuable to be able to share ideas or collaborate with other leaders. The collaborative relationships that you develop today between your peer leaders benefit you in your current role. The stronger your peer relationships, the more work you and your organization can get done.

Developing quality peer relationships serves a future purpose. As leaders grow in responsibility and mature in their career, the early-stage foundation of peer relationships evolve into a strong base of strategic influence. This is true whether you have a long career with your current organization, or you seek future senior leadership roles elsewhere. Today’s peer relationships become tomorrow’s industry connections.

What a Leader Must Do

Developing New Peer Relationships

One of the most important things a leader can do in an organization is to periodically spend time with their peers. The following techniques work well:

  • Invite a peer to come to your team meeting and present their strategic focus or their most important initiatives.
  • Share with your peers your most important areas of focus, and particularly, talk with them about mutually inclusive projects or themes.

Are You a Trusted Leader by Your Peers

Continually developing our leadership capability requires insight into ourselves that is sometimes painful. You might consider taking our micro-assessment Are You a Trusted Leader? 

The bottom-line

Building peer-to-peer relationships is a mutual endeavor. Always give more than you receive. Strive to become someone your peers look to for input.

Continue Learning

Check out our Lead the People series LeaderPod on communication and other soft skills. 

Article Written by Dr. Gordon Whitehead

Article Written by Dr. Gordon Whitehead

Founder of Leaders247

Gordon Whitehead is the founder of Leaders247 and specializes in leadership and organizational development with a particular interest in helping emerging leaders accelerate their leadership growth.

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