Twenty years ago I had wrapped up my military service and finally found my next steps in my career path and accepted a people leadership in operations. My family, including my 6-month-old daughter and wife who had just gotten laid off as our main source of income, picked up and moved to a new state in a city where we knew no one. We put all of our proverbial eggs into one basket. This had to work. 

I was also a high performer, and I knew it. I was a great problem solver, but I liked everyone knowing that I was a great problem solver with a high standard. I moved so far away because of one man; Paul Herman. He hired me and was my mentor to help me accelerate my career. This was our agreement and goal when I decided to move and his first order of business was to help me settle in and influence my peers well. 

Complete instead of competing


If you throw in a competitive high performer what do you think their instinct is? Compete! That was certainly my disposition when I jumped into my first team. What Paul taught me and what lessons I had learned the hard way is that in order to lead and influence your peers you have to be intentional in letting go of your ego and motivation to win at all costs. 

Some leaders would say that they would love a person who is willing to do whatever it takes to get to a goal; to win. We’ve spoken before about the power of balancing the What (performance) and the How (The Values) of the work and how each are equally important. How you get to the goal is just as important as getting to it itself. That’s certainly true with leading your peers. Instead of making things a competition between you and others, look for ways to complete and elevate their effectiveness. 

Understand the gaps and opportunities of your peers and instead of using that to your advantage, leverage your skills to help and support them. That may involve you giving up your time and attention in meeting your own goal in order to help achieve the larger success of the team. 

A note I had written for myself reads, “Be careful of peers that have a sense of ownership in an area that you are better in.” Pay extra attention to how you interact with that person and situation so that the window of opportunity stays open for you to influence in a positive way. 

Grow your number of acquaintances 


I’m weird. I love being up on the stage and getting out there and meeting new people. I’m also just as happy at times to hide in the back of the room and not interact with anyone. It’s one of the reasons I love living a very compartmentalized life. I can be out there in certain circles when I want to and blend right into other circles. There is nothing wrong with keeping to yourself, but to really grow your influence with peers, you’ve got to be proactive to put yourself out there. 

Growing your list of acquaintances and professional friends is what helps turn your leadership style into one that is a connector – a person that connects people to each other for both parties’ benefit. The benefit isn’t for others alone, you gain a larger support system to help you as you run into roadblocks to progress and you strengthen your relationships with others as you help your peers remove those roadblocks as well. 

Make a list of areas, or people, that you don’t know very well or have an interest in expanding your knowledge about. That’s exactly what Paul had me do. I listed out several projects that I could be a part of and supporting parts of the business that I didn’t have a personal relationship with. Use that list to begin growing your network. 

Friendship wins

Your friendship is everything when it comes to peers is a note that I had jotted down during one of my meetings with Paul. A peer often doesn’t have to be open to you and your influence if they choose not to be. Friendship is the door that allows your influence to enter. 

You’ll want to approach your business and professional friendships differently than you do in your personal life. When looking for a friend outside of work, you’ll likely seek someone who shares similar interests and has something to offer back in the relationship. In work, look to be a friend to others instead. That means that their Values, work style, and lack of common ground shouldn’t hinder you from offering kindness, interest, and support. As you look to be a friend to others remember to

  • Be a strong active and engaged listener. 
  • Have a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously. (Show 44)
  • Admit your faults to others.
  • Ask for advice and be open to learning from them. 
  • Tell the truth even when it’s hard. 

Here are some additional resources on how to leverage friendship as you work with others: 

Recently while digging out my closet, I found these notes that I had taken for myself many years ago, along with a nice handwritten note from Paul. Two decades later, these tips and strategies still ring true for me and I hope that they resonate with you when you lead and influence your peers. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH