John Maxwell on Leadership

Learning to Lead Your Peers


What would you do to win?

Not too long after I graduated from college, I was invited back to my high school to play in an alumni basketball game. I was thrilled to be asked back, and as we were warming up before the game, I noticed that the player I’d been assigned to guard was a very quick point guard. As he zipped around with the ball, I realized he was faster than me – and I developed a simple, but less than ideal, strategy for victory.

The first time he tried to drive the ball to the hoop, I fouled him. Hard. The next trip down the floor, he tried to set up for an outside shot, and I fouled him. Hard. A few moments later, we both went to the floor for a loose ball, and I made sure I landed on top of him. Hard.

He’d finally had enough. He popped up off the ground, got in my face, and said, “You’re playing too hard! It’s just a game!”

To which I replied, “Okay. Then let me win.”

Suffice it to say, that young man didn’t become my friend that day. In fact, even though my team won that particular exhibition game, my actions were pretty immature. You see, I wanted a victory very badly. And while I achieved my goal – victory –I lost sight of what matters – people.

As a leader, you’re wired to win. You want to see your team succeed. You want to see your own career take off. Chances are, there are very few moments in the day when you’re not looking for some kind of competitive advantage.

But you should never sacrifice people to your desire to win. Because the plain fact of the matter is that you can’t win without others. You need people to reach your potential.

Last week I wrote about facing up to the challenge of leading up, of helping to lead your leader when needed. This week, I want to share my thoughts about learning to lead across. In my book, The 360° Leader, I dedicated an entire section to leading your peers, because getting people on your level to follow your lead can be at least as challenging as leading your leader. Today, I want to touch on just a few behaviors that can help you learn to lead your peers.

1. Let the Best Idea Win

I know: I just told a story about the lengths I went to as young man to make sure my team came out on top. Did I mention how immature that was? Winning may be the goal, but if your idea of winning is for someone else to always lose, you need to adopt a new definition.

There are times when your ideas, your thoughts, your agenda, aren’t actually the best of the bunch. Hard to believe, right? But the truth is, there are other people on your team who are just as sharp as you. That’s why they’re your peers!

So instead of always arguing for your idea, your opinion, your agenda, sit back and listen to the other ideas being shared. Really evaluate them and give them a fair shake. If you find one that is as good as – or better than – your idea, then say so. Let the idea that has the most merit win, even if it’s not your own. Your willingness to work with others will be noticed.

2. Be a Friend

I love the statement, “All things being equal, people will likely follow the person they like the most. All things being unequal, they definitely will.” It’s humorous, but it has a lot of truth to it. One of the easiest ways to develop influence with your peers is to be their friend. That doesn’t mean you ingratiate yourself to them with empty gestures or words; it means you make a sincere effort to become someone they like and trust.

How do you do that? First, listen. When you prove to be someone who genuinely listens to others, people will seek you out because everyone likes – and needs – a good listener. Second, find common ground outside of work. There is more to the people in your office than what goes on in the office. Find out about and take an interest in their lives. Third, once you’ve found common ground outside of work, make yourself available outside of work as well. True friendship doesn’t punch a clock.

Finally, if you want to be a friend, you should develop two things: a sense of humor and a reputation for honesty. To develop a sense of humor, learn to laugh first at yourself. As the saying goes: laugh, and the world laughs with you. To develop a reputation for honesty, tell the truth when others won’t. Some people will ply their peers with easy platitudes or comfortable half-truths, so having the guts to be compassionately candid will certainly set you apart. It will also make you someone others trust and respect.

3. Avoid Office Politics

Sometimes, politics is just dirty business. Gossip. Self-serving agendas. Petty squabbles. Turf wars. All of these behaviors are at the center of most office politics, and they only serve to do one thing: get you caught up in the muck.

Leadership is messy, but it doesn’t mean you have to sling the mud that gets you dirty. Let your integrity be your guide when it comes to intra-office disagreements, and demonstrate a higher standard for your peers to follow. When you keep the big picture in mind and work at bringing your peers together for the common good, you do more than distinguish yourself and gain credibility. You build the influence you need to lead.

4. Don’t Pretend You’re Perfect

Like everything else in leadership, it always comes back to who you are as a person. Your character, your integrity, and your willingness to be authentic will do more to win people to your cause than anything else you can do. Leadership among your peers has more to do with relationships than anything else, and relationships are established when people drop their pretenses and allow others to know them as they really are.

Of course, it helps if you know yourself first. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and quite often we’re blind to one, or the other, or both! Being able to see yourself with clarity helps you to live with sincerity; when you know your faults, you can admit them – and admit your need for others to help you with them. This draws people to you, because it proves you have something that everyone loves in a leader: humility.

 

If you want to see your team make winning a habit, you’re going to have to learn to lead your peers. Of all the lessons I learned from playing basketball, the one I’ll never forget is that the people you need the most are the people on the team with you. When everyone is on the court, hungry for a win, the temptation is to make the game all about you. But on the court or in the cubicle, the truth remains the same – you can’t win without others.


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