Once you’ve laid the foundation for change by building a personal connection with your stakeholders, you’re ready to take the next step. But it may seem a paradoxical one: One of the most important jobs you can do as a transformational leader is to outsource your job. In other words, you must create the next generation of leaders by becoming a follower, listener, and perhaps at times an order-taker.
How do you do this? Because you’re just one individual, you start by architecting and deploying peer networks: you engage those who are advanced in their careers to do specific tasks to help the up-and-comers. What are these tasks, what do peer networks look like, and how do they operate?
Below, I describe the shape that peer networks take, the six essential tasks they need to execute, and real-life examples. These steps are crucial if you’re going to push through change that’s not only transformational, but is also sustainable. Your goal should be to create a self-perpetuating cycle of leadership that acts as a conduit to relentless innovation.
First, seasoned crew members must mentor and coach their fellow employees and teams—all those who are responsible for executing on the leader’s vision. In my consulting practice, I spend significant time with millennials who aspire to be the next generation of leaders. I work with this fresh talent to ensure they focus on the right stuff to propel themselves forward. The coaching I’ve provided and the mentoring your peer networks provide can take the form of:
- Giving insight and the benefit of your experience to others
- Offering guidance on corporate and entrepreneurial concepts
- Building organizational awareness
- Learning to neutralize versus internalize conflict
- Establishing relationships with influencers and decision-makers
In addition to teaching the new talent the lay of the land, peer networks must offer personal support. Whereas mentoring and coaching touch more upon the institutional and relational dynamics of leadership, peer support focuses on the personal ramifications of taking on an executive role.
Chantal Pierret, CEO and founder of Emerging Women, is a prime example of peer support. She hosts “power circles” in which female peers gather to discuss everything from discrete job challenges to overarching leadership strategy. The more experienced share their knowledge with the rising stars on how to navigate challenges or exploit opportunities. For aspiring leaders, the support of a tribe that understands exactly what you are going through is incredible. I love Chantal's model because she uses professional facilitation to drive members to focus on the right stuff. Peer support can include actions such as:
- Exposing and offering connections through personal networks
- Sharing personal and professional advice on what it’s like to be an executive
One of the biggest differences between those who achieve high levels of success and those who don't is that the achievers had someone advocate for them when they weren’t in the room. Your peer networks should foster exposure and access to leadership opportunities. Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, for example, sees a lot of lucrative and high profile opportunities come across her desk. She always advocates and recommends people from her network for key opportunities. You can advocate for your stakeholders in ways such as:
- Nominating an employee to be considered for an open board position
- Promoting gender diversity in the boardroom for qualified candidates
“The greatest shapers don’t stop at introducing originality into the world. They create cultures that unleash originality in others.”
- Being a fantastic sound board
- Clearing obstacles to team success
- Providing upskilling, exposure to new approaches, and training
- Avoiding micromanagement
- Allowing the team to define its impact measures, goals, and strategies
People don't change because you tell them to; they change when you enable them. When you are growing the next generation of leaders, you are facilitating their individual transformation toward a collective goal. You do this by illuminating the path, providing the right tools, and then stepping out of the way.
Bob Cummings, Global Vice President of Insurance Industry Business Unit at SAP, is a master at this guidance. He brings people together toward a vision, sweeping debris out of the way—typically by getting stakeholders on board and working through conflict—and giving followers the right information and training that they need to succeed as innovators. Similar to Bob, you can enable your stakeholders by:
- Prioritizing the value of relationships in enabling leaders to make the change they want to see
- Listening carefully to the challenges and opportunities leaders face
- Asking yourself whom you know who could help or point someone in the right direction
- Making valuable connections
Great leaders know that success doesn't depend on what you know or whom you know, but instead who knows you. Many of us grew up at a time when hard-won contacts were kept close to the vest, or when someone would only be introduced if he or she were guaranteed to have all the answers to a question. Transformational leadership, in contrast, thrives on a diametrically opposite mindset in which you use your social capital to expand the social capital of your stakeholders. By making introductions and exposing your stakeholders to your connections, you vastly increase the odds of success for your change initiative.
Emma Sinclair, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the human resources tech start-up, EnterpriseJungle, is a master connector. Her rich network of media, business, and start-up influencers is a treasure trove. She works hard at her relationships and doesn’t believe in wasting anyone's time. Your peer networks can emulate the ways in which Emma builds social capital, including:
- Fostering a climate in which your team can feel free to fail when innovating
- Instilling change as a welcome and expected opportunity
- Creating a system of shared vision, value, and brand
Creating the next generation of leaders is highly dependent on picking and cultivating the best teams. This is because teams—not individuals—create innovation. Recruiting and fostering talent is easier said than done. It’s not just about finding the right individual talent; it’s about combining the right mix of talent, skills, behaviors, and personality. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t have the luxury of building teams from scratch. Their teams often comprise individuals who come to them in a mixed situation of 'inherited' and 'chosen', which further complicates matters. And yet, the ability to collaborate and develop shared experience is a decisive factor in innovation.
In their 2016 collaboration overload research report, Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant found that more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues. No doubt corporate programs reflect this imperative as time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more over the last two decades. While you might not be able to be able to choose the individuals who make up your teams, you can strive to ensure the whole exceeds the sum of its parts by doing the following:
If you want to orchestrate change, you must inspire a new cohort of conductors. The most pragmatic way to do this is by creating peer networks, in which the “older and wiser” foster the “newer and aspirational” through mentoring, peer support, advocacy, enabling, making introductions, and cultivating talent. Peer networks can prove as powerful as support from executives. Moreover, they offer the advantage of being self-renewing in that as one generation of leaders fosters the next, the favor continues. Transformational change, in turn, becomes a continuous possibility rather than a one-time outcome.