A very senior leader once asked me, “What group of people on the job can make or break your career…your boss, your peers or your employees?” I suppose that I answered, “my boss.” She disagreed. For her it was peers. Our answers probably come from our current perspectives. If I’m having trouble with my boss, then I might go there.
Nevertheless, her point is well-taken. Peers are a very powerful force. Why is this?
- They Incite Our Reactivity: Peers are the closest thing we have to siblings on the job. And even as adults, no one can push our buttons more than anxious brothers and sisters! (OK, parents are pretty high up there too.)
- They’re Often Competitors: Peers are probably the primary source of competition that we might feel on the job. This has its place. Though sometimes they might incite us to needless comparisons and knee-jerk behaviors
- They Judge Our Work: Peers are often very close to our work and have opinions, good and bad, of how we behave and perform
- They Talk: For better or worse, peers will often pass information through the system
And my primary consideration:
- Peers are a key source of performance and behavior feedback TO THE BOSS
Often the main source of information that a boss has regarding the performance of an employee is from that employee’s peers. This is especially true at higher levels. The boss simply is not around enough to see and hear it all; he or she has to depend on other sources for feedback. Sometimes it’s solicited. Sometimes it’s offered up by the peers in a sort of tattle-tale, tell-all format. And, of course, the more credibility the peer has with the boss, the more sticking power the message has.
It’s not my intention to make you suspicious of your peers. However, the implications are obvious: sound, positive working relationships with peers can really pay off. Given their position of influence, peers can be a great source of fulfillment and fun on the job – if our behaviors and intentions with them are equally good. But do be wise and recognize that your peers are often just as influential as you are.