Transitioning to Senior Leadership: The Importance of Peer Relationships

The three components to actually making this shift are (1) cross-organizational advocacy, (2) driving strategic vision, and (3) building people capacity. We’ll explore the first component in this post.

Cross-organizational Advocacy

Cross-organizational advocacy is a shift in focus from your own department/function to a broader view of the organization. Leaders who successfully make this shift begin to ask less of “what does my area of the business need?” to more of “what does the business need?” It’s a shift from being very tactically oriented and solving problems in your own functional area, to thinking beyond your function.

To successfully make the shift to an outcome orientation, the leader has to appreciate cross-functional collaboration. Even more, the leader has to place a higher value on peer relationships than on her direct report relationships.

Here’s why.

At the emerging leader level, the tendency was to solve one problem at a time and usually independently. For example, an Engineering Manager might be swamped with feature requests that need to be released to the customer. So, she asks for more people on her development team. The problem solving focus is solely based on the Engineering Manager’s mindset of taking care of her team. It’s not wrong; it’s just not organizationally focused.

An outcome orientation, on the other hand, requires that same leader to step back and evaluate how her resource constraints might be related to other areas of the business.  Perhaps there’s a systemic issue that needs to be resolved between Engineering and Sales or between Engineering and Support.

Back to my comment about why peer relationships become more important than direct report relationships at the senior leadership level. Solving systemic problems requires the leader to work closely with other areas of the business where she may not have authority. It also places the leader in front of peers who are competing for the same share of resources or even vying for a promotion to the same role. It’s difficult to be cross-functionally oriented without upsetting your peers if you don’t have strong relationships that are built on the foundation of trust and centered on what the organization needs most.

Back to Shift 1: It’s no wonder that senior leaders wished they knew about relationships, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal agility before being promoted. Their peer relationships depend on that skill set.

What are the challenges to cross-organizational advocacy in your organization? Stay tuned for our next post in the series about driving strategic vision.