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Where is the Value in Peer Relationships?

Where is the Value in Peer Relationships?

Peer relationships serve many purposes. They can be a tie that binds peers much like a shared experience from a positive celebration or negative circumstance like a car accident. 

Camaraderie—Someone understands what I’m going through . . .
There is a perceived comfort level in knowing someone else may be experiencing similar issues—a sense of connection and not being alone–Being isolated is common for senior executives. Feeling alone can be daunting and plays into personal insecurities. For example, senior executives often feel alone to make decisions or distribute news that may cascade down through a company, some of which is self-inflicted, because they do not want people to see any vulnerabilities or hesitation that may arise. Coaches are effective allies with senior executives because the coaching relationship provides a safe space for the client to reveal vulnerabilities and work through issues without the spotlight on them.
Prestige or status can be associated with “levels” of peers. There is a shared understanding of what the level entails and requires. Perhaps, that is why the golf course is a neutral, non-charged environment for discussion because there are distractions, and provides a level playing field.
A badge of honor
Depending on the peer group, perceived membership can be viewed as a badge of honor. Unspoken allegiance or rules can play into a peer community. Consider the codes of law enforcement, military, and the Masons. Within the group is the comfort that all involved understand the rules—There is an expectation that all members will play by them! It adds a level of certainty in an uncertain worlPP Award of Excellence However, structure of a peer group can be like a caste system or identification in a hierarchy. The sub-textual rules of engagement can prevent accurate informational flow and become what the person wants to hear. It is a closed loop or like an echo chamber.
Fraternities and gangs use the power of the group for initiation, and to prove one’s commitment and worthiness to belong to that group.
It can support secrecy and defy transparency under the “code of silence” that often accompanies this “club” mentality, like a secret handshake. These conditions often lead to mistrust particularly dangerous in areas of safety and security. For example, one of the top three reasons given for the Challenger spacecraft disaster was fear of truthful communication.
“You’ve got to get out more!”
To keep the air from getting stale and to avoid a “group think” situation, it is imperative that peers circulate in other environments. A downside risk of being surrounded only by peers can be insulation from reality of a situation. An historical example is from when a president was asked the price of a carton of milk, and he could not answer—consider when the last time he went out for such a thing! Often top tier managers, unless they have “their ears to the ground”, are receiving filtered at best, or misinformation at worst. That is critical if pending decisions require feedback.
Peer hierarchy can create mythical distance. Is it protection or intended to separate peers? Often, this is intentional, like a rock star effect—“I’m bigger than life,” the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, when in fact all that is created is separation–It is like an invisible cloak. The separateness can deprive the person of what s/he needs to move through a situation; it is especially dangerous when information does not flow upward.
The Antidote—The Emotionally Intelligent Multi-Dimensional Leader™
Happily, more leaders are employing and exploring a shared leadership model.
  They welcome input; and, if they are evolved and informed, they invite a 360ofeedback loop, or they select the front line people who are the most informed and directly involved with a process, to offer solutions and strategies to bridge gaps. Eliyahu Goldratt discussed these possibilities and strategies in CriticalChain and The Goal.
Today’s emotionally intelligent leader understands how valuable untainted feedback and authentic insights provide. It must be a relief to the leaders to not be the “oracle” and to have all the answers–it is unrealistic and depleting.
Also, the emotional intelligent approach opens avenues for learning and evolving. One may have held a belief and learned new information so that now can expand and open possibilities for reward. Also, it is refreshing and fulfilling to cheer on others’ accomplishments and share rewards for a powerful contribution.
A Coaching Perspective . . .
My coaching perspective recommends an inclusive approach to greet one’s peers and community at large. Being inclusive is freeing and devoid of judgment. It offers the group an opportunity to be open, receptive, and respectful of others. The ideal environment has boundaries and initial rules of engagement so everyone is clear about expectations.
A fun and pragmatic place to start is to use Edward De Bono’s work, for example, Six Thinking Hats. De Bono’s work offers neutral language around which participants can be open and honest in their responses. As a facilitator, I have observed groups, like boards of directors, make meaningful shifts once there is understanding (Covey’s “First, seek to understand”) and permission to fully engage and share honestly. Coaching and such facilitation can be useful to develop peers and all community members to new heights related to communication styles and how they affect others.
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