Don't Overlook Peer Relationships


As an executive coach, I work with a lot of high performers who are thinking about how to get to the next level in their careers. At the end of a recent call with an executive at AT&T, I asked him what factors he thought people overlooked or underestimated in their quest to move up.  

His answer? Peer relationships.

When people are trying to advance, the first place they look is above them, this executive explained. Whom should they be trying to impress? Whom do they need exposure to?

His advice is to stop looking up as much and start looking around. Your relationships with your peers might not come into play for you every day, so they might fall of your radar. But remember that they do affect your career progression.

This executive considers one measure of success to be whether your peers seek out your opinion and advice. It's easier to look good to the people above you, he points out. But your peers really know what's going on "in the trenches" and will certainly weigh in if you are being considered for a promotion, especially if they might become your direct reports.

He gives this advice for building peer relationships:

  • Cultivating relationships with your peers starts with how you treat your own team. You can't get support from peers if you're not treating your own people well.

  • Share credit broadly with your own team and others. When something bad happens, take the fall instead of trying to assign blame.

  • Focus on doing positive things for your peers. By lifting them up and investing in building strong relationships with them, you will foster loyalty and support.

And I'd add these tips:

  • Take the time to get to know your peers: their challenges, their pressures, their goals and what's important to them personally and professionally.

  • Invest time to listen, problem-solve or brainstorm with your peers. Being able to offer an outside perspective can be invaluable to them.

  • Look for what you can offer your peers. How can you put your strengths, values and experiences to use for them?

Consistently working on your peer relationships will pay off when you are being considered for a promotion. You can bet that your peers will get asked what they think of you then.

You'll find more ideas on strengthening your peer relationships in my ebooklet "Building aPowerful Network." It's part of The Leadership EDGE SeriesSM.

This week, identify one peer relationship you would like to strengthen and one small step you can take to cultivate it. Remember that small steps can lead to big results – and in this case might help you advance.