“Follow me, I’ll walk with you.”
What distinguishes a merely competent leader from one who goes to the next level? Competent leaders can lead followers. They can find, gather, recruit, and enlist them. This is no easy task, but a leader who can lead only followers is limited. To make it to the next level of leadership, a leader must be able to lead other leaders—not just those below them, but also those above and alongside them.
Leaders who work really hard and exhibit very high competence can influence their bosses. So in that respect, they have become leaders of leaders. But leading peers is another kind of challenge. In fact, for highly productive people who create feelings of jealousy or resentment because of their relationship with their bosses, leading peers can be especially difficult. If the leaders in the middle who lead up are seen as political or as brownnosers, then their peers may reject any overtures toward leading across.
To succeed as a 360-Degree Leader who leads peer-to-peer, you have to work at giving your colleagues reasons to respect and follow you. How do you do that? By helping your peers win. If you can help them win, you will not only help the organization but will also help yourself.
The people who find it most difficult to lead across are those who don’t excel at building relationships. If you look back at the Five Levels of Leadership in “The Position Myth,” you’ll see that after the first level, which is position, the second and third levels are permission and production. Leaders who excel at production but neglect permission may be able to influence their bosses, but they will have a nearly impossible time trying to influence their peers. If you want to lead across, you need to work for and win your peers’ permission. That can be a great challenge, but it is definitely one worth accepting.
Maxwell, J. C. (2011). The 360 degree leader: developing your influence from anywhere in the organization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.