How to Make an Immediate Impact With Peer Leadership
Feature Story – By Pam Marinko and KC Warner
Expect to find many people looking to you for guidance and support. And yet others may not.
Congratulations! You are a new field-based trainer. This is great news for you and the company. Your success at selling in the field, leading team meetings and mentoring new salespeople brings you to this exciting yet challenging new arena.
Now it’s time to “train” salespeople. What does that involve? How do you begin to take the role of the field-based trainer and impact results in the field? You are now expected to lead people you worked with previously as peers or even current peers if you are still selling as part of your trainer role. Expect to find many people looking to you for guidance and support. And yet others may not.
Your new role differs from that of a sales manager, which is a formal position of leadership. You are now a peer leader, or one who leads others without the authority of a managerial position.
Let’s start with a definition of leadership that holds true for peer leaders. While there are several different definitions, Dr. PE Levy, in a recent book, Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace, explains leadership as “a social process through which an individual intentionally exerts influence over others to structure their behaviors and relationships.” The first part of this definition emphasizes the “social process” that serves as the structure for the relationship.
Following that aspect is influence, a characteristic seen in almost any definition of leadership. Influence stands as the key part of the relationship between the leader and the individual or group. The main goal of leading is to have some influence with others. Influence is often defined as the capacity to affect the character, development or behavior of someone or something.
The second part of the leadership definition is focusing on the sales representative’s behavior. By exerting your influence as a leader, you are hoping to change someone’s behavior so that it supports the goals of your team and your company. At the end of the day, you want to leverage your influence with others to get them to adjust their behaviors, helping to improve field sales abilities.
Since a peer can be any individual who does not directly report to you, peer leadership is leading others without using the power or force associated with your role. In other words, it’s when you have opportunities to lead others who don’t report to you, and who you don’t have the ability to reprimand, reward or affect by using other aspects of power that come with formal supervision.
A field-based trainer is a peer leader. Your sales team has probably already experienced your peer leadership through your sharing of success stories, coaching and encouragement, and demonstrating excellent performance.
Behaviors go beyond your personal attributes or characteristics. This is all about how you organize your work, how you communicate and how you interact with others. Your behavior when carrying out your responsibilities significantly affects your success. Your examples of high integrity, efficient work habits and effective communication become powerful tools.
Formal and Informal Influence
Consider two types of influence critical to leading as a peer — formal influence and informal influence. Formal influence occurs when the opportunity to influence is formal or structured. For example, a manager influences the person who directly reports to him or her. Another example is when someone recognizes your skill in a particular area, and he asks you to schedule a session with a newer representative, perhaps during a lunch program, where you can share your knowledge or expertise. This is outside a management relationship, but structured.
Your sales team has probably already experienced your peer leadership through your sharing of success stories, coaching and encouragement, and demonstrating excellent performance.
The informal influences are those that you don’t always think about in terms of leadership. For example, you may see a sales representative struggle to manage the organization of visual aids and you offer assistance, or you speak up at a team meeting and share some important best practices that have worked very well for you, or you take opportunities to consistently demonstrate your professionalism with customers, especially when you are with your peers. These are examples of informal influence, an important aspect of peer leadership. Such examples contribute to expert authority that can garner the respect of peers. You will find numerous opportunities to leverage your informal influence with your peers.
Credibility and Ability
There are two basic building blocks of influence – credibility and ability. Credibility is important in that others need to know what they are doing and why to be motivated by your message. Ability is the dexterity to understand and leverage the interpersonal dynamics at play.
Here are some examples of how you influence with both credibility and ability in your sales role, and now that you are a field-based trainer:
- Other salespeople and managers count on you to get things done.
- Others seek you out for advice to accomplish tasks.
- You have alliances across business units, which increase your support base.
- Others embrace your ideas and want to be a part of what you are doing.
- Others can depend on you to change outcomes for the better.
- You can get others to take on tasks that affect the organization.
- You are skilled at creating an engaged and committed workforce.
Here are a few suggestions to improve credibility:
- First, solicit support from others invested in your peers’ success. You may want to contact the peer’s manager. Ask the manager to communicate about your role and support your efforts to help the peer. Hearing about the value you can bring from the manager may go a long way to improving your influence.
- In addition, share relevant expertise or experience in discussions with your peer.
- Knowing that you’ve successfully dealt with similar challenges will go a long way to boosting your credibility.
- Next, try to position your approach with the peer to create a win-win solution.
- Collaborate and work together to achieve success that could benefit you both. By sharing in the outcome, you will further demonstrate your support.
- Your credibility hinges on keeping all the commitments you make in scheduling meetings, providing resources, arranging events and so on. Keep your promises reasonable and work to fulfill them.
- When providing suggestions, avoid blaming. Instead of focusing on what actions the peer did not take or did incorrectly, identify the steps necessary to achieve success. Be willing to actively support the peer in taking these steps. Similarly, take ownership of your mistakes and role-model how you can learn from even less than optimal experiences.
- Communicate your concern for the success of the peer as well as customers. Sincere concern contributes to your credibility.
- Whenever working with peers, get to know them as individuals. Personal relationships can enhance your credibility.
- Model the behavior you are asking others to do. For example, model asking effective questions while in their presence.
The Leadership Challenge
James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the best-selling book The Leadership Challenge, are considered among the top leadership experts in the country. In their work, Kouzes and Posner surveyed more than a million people on what leadership characteristics they looked for, most admired and would willingly follow.
A Note on Coaching Peers
As a field-based trainer, you will be coaching the sales calls of sales representatives, while practicing in a training class and live in front of a customer. Remember to focus on observable behaviors to coach like those in your sales model and field coaching report. Stay positive.
Now that you are a field-based trainer, you have a new opportunity to lead your peers. Leading without authority has many facets – some you have already demonstrated, and some are yet to be conquered. Enjoy learning and growing in your new, expanded role.