Peer Leadership – a new skillset for a competitive age

According to a growing number of management thinkers, traditional organizational leadership based on hierarchy (the pyramid)  is no longer the ideal — it is, they say, too bureaucratic and  slow for today’s challenging  and competitive world.

In the absence of top-down leadership, however, driving for change from the middle can be daunting.  Getting others to aspire to your ideas when you do not have authority to force change can be frustrating.   Operating today in a 24/7 global world requires  nimbleness, speed, and flexibility.  It also often requires an environment that permits rapid experimentation – where sometimes “half-baked” ideas can be tested, and improved upon.

In this world, innovation should be possible (and encouraged) in your organization, as long as people are able to work together – often across departmental boundaries to marshal the information and resources to make things happen.  However, we find on our horizon too often an  array of adversaries who seem to have different perspectives goals, priorities, and views.

So how do we get ANYTHING done?

In his article “Having a disagreement? 3 ways to work it out!author John Baldoni talks about this problem.  Imagine, postulates Baldoni, that “you are a product development executive and your company is facing stiff competition from another firm. The response may be to call for a revamping of your product line. That may be necessary, but in the interim how do you work with your colleagues in marketing and sales to reach out to customers and ensure that you hold them until the new product arrives? Failure to cooperate inside the company plays right into the hands of your competition.”

What’s needed?  In this case, it is called “peer leadership,” whereby teams of executives and managers work in parallel to influence each other and forge partnerships that help drive success.

It is an idea championed by Daniel Kahneman in his new book Thinking,  Fast and Slow.  Kahneman suggests the idea of “adversarial collaboration”: when studying something, work with people you disagree with. Take what the terrain gives.  Don’t overreach. Understand what your circumstances are offering.

The keys to make this work?   The author suggests that there are three:

  1. Keep your ego in check.  This one is easy to say, but hard to do.  Your ego – connected with a lot of drive, probably helped you get where you are today.  When you have a great idea, you are also likely to get excited about it and it is hard to hear when others say no.  Drive is good, but must be harnessed.  Being overbearing (even when driven by pure motives) doesn’t work.
  2. Look for synergy.  Your chances of success are greatly enhanced when your idea is connected with the goals and needs of others.  So, put your enthusiasm in check, and keep your radar deployed for chances to find an ally – even an unlikely one can help you build momentum.  It is often better to compromise some of what you seek instead of settling for nothing.   Work with what you have – and make the best of it.
  3. Radiate Enthusiasm.   Collaboration takes a lot more energy than directing others through authority.  Enthusiasm generates positive energy that can often get the train moving.  Look for the first people who share your enthusiasm for an idea, and then use them to form your coalition.  (Once you have them on your side, it is best to let them influence project goals and mission.)

If you want to explore this more, the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman provides some interesting insights into the two competing decision-making processes at work in us.  One is slow deliberate, rational and often data driven (rational thought). The other is virtually instantaneous, instinctive, often unconscious, and intuitive.   The debate will rage for some time about the pros and cons of each.   Recent popular books seems to promote each style (Moneyball promotes the notion of “follow the data”, and Blink the “go with your gut” approach.)

For the executive summary, see also “Who You  Are” by David Brooks in the New York Times.

In addition, herer is an intriguing TED talk on this dichotomy and how it relates to our own personal happiness


1 Comment

Filed under Leading, Managing Teams, Personal Leadership

One response to “Peer Leadership – a new skillset for a competitive age

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