How to be a Great Peer From The Start

By Jennifer Eggers, Andersen Alumnus and Founder and President of LeaderShift Insights®,

Are you starting a new leadership role? Perhaps joining a new company or new area of your existing organization? Having coached senior leaders for nearly 30 years, there is one area that is often overlooked that can make or break a new leader: your relationship with your peers. Let's face it, very few leaders get promoted or rated on their own and there are precious few roles that don't rely on people you don't have authority over to get things done. Your peers are critical stakeholders and setting up your relationship with them is worth a strategic focus that can pay back in spades over the course of your career. Any great coach will pick up patterns that work overtime. Here are a few things I've seen that have made a critical difference for many clients in setting up great peer relationships from the start:

  1. Save them time. I'll never forget meeting a certain peer when I got to Coke. We connected instantly and found all sorts of common ground. I abandoned my list of questions about her function in favor of a more personal conversation. I was thrilled believing I had found an actual friend in a new city. What I didn't realize was that I had just taken an hour of her precious time at the office when she had a ton of more important things to do than socialize with me. I learned a powerful lesson that day, and 12 years later I am still grateful that she thought enough of me to point that out. When you meet your new peers, remember that these are not social calls. Do your research and come prepared with several questions about what you need to learn from them. Be sure to invite their opinion of your function and any pain points they have.
  2. Ask how you can help and listen for the answer. The more time you can save them or the easier you can make their role, the more they will appreciate you. You want to be the peer they would be sorry to lose. If your functions don't intersect enough to really help them, think about what you might learn from them and ask about that. One of my clients was hired to build a new center of excellence (COE) in Revenue Growth Management for a large consumer products firm. This required corralling all kinds of resources across the globe that she did not have direct authority over. It was a tough job in a place where COE's were a relatively new concept. We quickly realized that one of her peers had set up another COE in Change Management about a year earlier that was very successful and highly regarded in the organization. While the two functions really didn't have a lot of reasons to interact, we quickly discovered that the precedents set by this peer (for better or for worse) impacted the expectations the company had for my client. She spent a lot of time listening and learning from her peer in terms of what had worked and didn’t work and was able to better understand what was expected. She also picked up a few ideas that translated to her new role. In the process, they were able to stand together as allies in the face of some difficult challengers to both of them.
  3. Make sure your team works well with their team. If you want to be a great peer, seek to understand the pain points that may be caused by your team. Of course, you want to have their back, but part of that is making sure that they are as easy to work with as possible. If another team can't deal with some of the players or a process in place on your team, this WILL (at some point) reflect on you. The pain won't always be your team's fault, but the better you understand what's going on, the better chance you have of unraveling it, even if that means going to their leader and talking through a better way for both teams. Sometimes, this is difficult. A finance team, for example, is never going to be able to say yes to every request and is frequently going to have to say "no" to something that results in pain. In these cases, you can level-set the relationship by agreeing to provide a "heads up" as soon as you know something that might be painful is coming or including them in the thought process earlier. They may not get what they want, but by trying to be helpful, you can potentially separate that from their opinion of you as their peer.

If you would like help setting up relationship with key stakeholders early in your transition to a new role, call us. It's what we do.