If you want to be successful, it seems to make sense to get around successful people. The people we are around have an immeasurable impact on us. It’s one of the major themes in my book, The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future.
That’s why I was drawn to Leo Bottary’s new book, What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself with the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity, and Personal Growth. He covers this important aspect of success. Success is available to everyone who pursues it with discipline. I recently spoke with Leo about his work.
The Importance of Peers
Since it is so central to your area of study and expertise, would you start by talking about the importance of peers. Why does it matter more than ever?
Trust in our institutions is low across the board (business, government, media and even non-governmental organizations) — because of this, it creates a vacuum. If we can’t trust our institutions, where else do we turn? For example, in the workplace, employees were found to trust their co-workers more than either the CEO or any of the senior leadership team members (Edelman Trust Barometer). When we lack trust in our institutions, and the people who lead them, we look to one another for reliable counsel. It’s why in today’s environment, our peers matter more than ever. It also points to why it’s so essential for leaders to communicate horizontally as well as vertically. The biggest influencers in today’s organizations are not always identified by job title. In an era where creating “alignment” is the challenge of the day in so many of today’s companies, getting ALL your key influencers involved early and often is essential to making real alignment possible.
What is the Aspen Effect and what does it teach us about leadership?
The Aspen Effect speaks to a phenomenon in nature. We see individual Aspen trees, yet it’s not evident they share a common root system and that thousands of Aspen trees can be one organism. We are all connected. If we thought of ourselves more often in terms of being part of a larger whole, we would be more successful more often.
Factors of High Performing-Peer Groups
What are some of the common factors you have found in high-performing peer groups?
During our research while writing The Power of Peers (2016), we found five factors that emerged as common to high performing peer groups: 1) Having the right people in the room. This involves having people committed to the goals of the group and who conduct themselves in a manner that ensures the greatest value for all. 2) Enjoying a safe haven. This speaks to an environment where participants are there to learn rather than judge and who regard confidentiality as sacrosanct. What happens in the room stays in the room. 3) Fostering valuable interaction. While having the emotional safety that comes from a safe haven is important, group members want to achieve tangible outcomes. Doing so means fostering meaningful and relevant dialogue. 4) Creating a culture of Accountability – not accountability to the leader of the group, but among the group members. The more that everyone challenges one another to bring their “A” games, the stronger the group; and, 5) Having a servant leader. This involves having a leader truly committed to making the group successful and who serves as a steward for maintaining and enhancing the other four factors. These factors create a cycle we call the learning/achieving cycle.
We learn best when we share concepts and ideas with one another. We help one another generate a deeper understanding and embed the learning. Better yet, we give one another the courage to act — to actually apply what we learn. Once we try the concept and work to perfect the new initiative, we can begin to achieve the positive results we imagined. It’s a cycle worth repeating, which is what the best groups do.
Anytime you can tap into the wisdom and experience of someone who has already done what you are trying to do, there’s simply no substitute for it. While we always can’t return the favor to our mentor (other than to do our best), we can pay it forward to others when people need our help. My podcast guests, time and time again, talked about how grateful they remain for the mentors in their lives and why paying it forward to others is so important.
What defines a great teammate?
One way the University of Connecticut Women’s basketball (WBB) coach Geno Auriemma finds great teammates, as he scouts high school players, is to watch how the player behaves when she’s not actually in the game. Even the best high school basketball players will get taken out for a quick breather. It’s during that time, while the player is on the bench, that he and his coaches watch carefully. If the player throws a towel over her head and doesn’t remain actively engaged in the game, cheering on her fellow players for the brief time she’s on the bench, she is not likely to get the nod to come to UConn, no matter how many points she scores while she’s on the floor. This high schooler may be a great player, but she’ll probably have to play college ball elsewhere. Great teammates understand they are part of something larger than themselves. Having a culture that prizes being a great teammate is among the reasons UConn WBB still enjoys one of the most successful programs in the history of sports.
How to Build Trust with the Team
Trust is a critical element of every great team. Would you share some ways you can build trust with your teammates?
If you want to build trust, embrace the idea that you all are part of a common root system. Get to know one another – really know one another. When it comes to business teams, knowing the people you work with beyond job title and role is a key to seeing one another a part of a common organism.
How do leaders encourage a culture of accountability to one another?
At the start of my doctoral work at Northeastern University, the leadership greeted new students – not with the threat of how many people would fail, but with idea that everyone was accepted into this program for a reason – and that all of us (administration, faculty and students) would be committed to one another’s success, no matter what challenges life threw at us. The leadership believed in us, we believed in one another, and as a result, we as students, did our part in building a culture where we accepted personal responsibility for our own preparation and performance, and we had the back of our fellow students whenever necessary. I believe everyone succeeded in their own way and it was a result of the culture of accountability inspired by the leadership.