Don’t Overlook the Importance of Peers in Your Network of Strategic Advisors
When it comes to building a network of strategic advisors, it’s natural to look to people with more position power, access, and influence as your primary go-to’s. Yes, you want a productive relationship with your boss, a mentor who will challenge you, and—if you’re really lucky—a genuine sponsor opening doors. But don’t overlook the importance of a network of strong peer relationships.
4 Vital Peer Relationships To Nurture
Whenever anyone asks me what leadership lessons I wished I’d learned sooner, I always have the same response.
“I wish I’d invested in deeper and more meaningful peer relationships way sooner than I did.”
This goes beyond, “having a best friend at work,” (which according to Gallup only 30% of us have— which is too bad— since those who do are more engaged and productive).
I’m talking about having a deep network of strategic advisors to help you win.
It’s natural to focus on building a great relationship with your manager. And of course, as a human-centered leader, you focus on connecting with and developing your team.
But a deliberate investment in go-to coworker relationships matters just as much (or even more).
And the good news is that, unlike your manager, who is who they are (and may or may not be able to give you all the support you need), you likely have a number of peers to choose from.
So, you can gather your go-to peer relationships based on what they do best. And you can leverage what you do best to help them.
Here are four key peer relationship players to get you started. What would you add?
1. An Encourager
This is the peer you can trust to pick you up when you’re feeling down. You can vent about setbacks and they’ll remind you how wonderful you are.
They’re your “You’ve got this” go-to.
If you’re not getting the appreciation or recognition you crave, your encourager can help you feel seen for who you are, what you’re contributing, and remind you of how important all that is.
Your encourager will shut the door and let you be a bit vulnerable, so you can face your team (or boss … or that mean dude in the other department) with confidence.
2. A Challenger
When it comes to peer relationships, your challenger plays quite a different role from your encourager. While your encourager reminds you of how smart you are, your challenger asks tough and courageous questions that really make you think.
“Are you sure that’s the best approach?”
“Have you considered what would happen if you just stopped doing that?”
“What did you learn from that mistake?”
When you ask your challenger how you could have presented that I.D.E.A. more effectively, you can count on her to tell you the truth.
3. An Advocate
An executive sponsor is great, but let’s face it, they’re not always around. And you don’t want to be consistently running to them asking for their help. Having an advocate or two in your peer relationships network can really make a difference.
Advocates serve a variety of roles, from bolstering your reputation, “You know who’s the best at this?” to bringing up your name for special projects or opportunities.
Of course, if you want folks to advocate for you, the best approach is to be a staunch advocate for others.
4. A Technical Advisor
Even if you’re the best at what you do, it’s always good to build peer relationships with someone who is even better at the technical aspects of your role.
They’re up on the latest industry trends. Or perhaps they’ve got tons more experience, or they’re fresh out of school with a different perspective. Maybe they’re just wicked smart.
Your technical advisor might not be the best encourager, or may even be a bit rough around the edges, but they’ll help you to get it right.
How to Build These Important Coworker Relationships
Of course, building genuine peer relationships starts with generosity. Need a technical advisor? Start by considering what you may offer them. Maybe you can be an encourager or an advocate for them before you seek out their technical expertise.
Back in my Verizon days, one of my favorite peers, Dan, and I were always advocating for one another—but for completely different things. He was my technical expert— he knew everything about the network and call center operations. And I was his HR and team development sounding board. AND, we were constantly bringing up one another’s names when we saw opportunities that were a great fit.
Highly reciprocal. But not forced. And heck yeah, if Gallup had asked, I would have said I had a best friend at work. And yes, we were both highly productive and engaged.
Things to Learn about Your Trusted Coworkers
Of course, relationships like this need to evolve, but a bit of deliberate conversation can help. Here are few things to work to know about the people with whom you’re working on investing in deeper peer relationships.
- What’s their MIT (Most Important Thing) that they’re working on (and why is that so important)?
- Who is important to them in their lives (significant others, friends, pets)?
- What’s challenging them or frustrating them?
- How do they like to communicate?
- What do they need from you (how can you best help)?
- How can they best help you? (And have you asked for it?)
Your turn. I’d love to hear your stories of great peer relationships. How did you help one another?