I just saw the most interesting rescue. This morning while driving to a client meeting on a busy Atlanta road of 4 lanes intersecting with a cross over side street, an old Toyota truck stumbled into the intersection from the street at my left and then, with a sputtering refrain, stalled in front of the oncoming traffic lanes which were sitting at the red light, revving their engines, ready to tear off to their next event.
Uh oh, I thought.
When the light turned green for the cars on the far side of the highway to turn left in front of me or go straight, the little truck was still there, blocking traffic. But now the owner, who was barely 5 feet tall, was out his door and valiantly trying to push the truck the rest of the way across the intersection. And going nowhere.
I held my breath. Our light was still red.
Suddenly a huge navy SUV from the oncoming lane managed to ease around the truck – I presumed he was pulling out around him to continue on his way – and then backed up and angled in behind the truck, clearly offering to help nudge the truck across the incredibly busy intersection. This all happened in less than a minute.
"Here, let me help"
It made me appreciate how often out of nowhere our rescuers come when we are in an awkward moment, in a jam, or when we have more than we can possibly handle. Perhaps just as often or more so, we feel abandoned, unnoticed, left out, and thrown under the bus. These are two remarkably different experiences with lasting consequences.
Have you ever noticed when you let someone in in front of you while driving that they will return the favor to someone down the way? Positivity is contagious.
When was the last time you reached across the aisle at work to provide spontaneous support to a colleague?
From Peer to Peer Accountability to Peer to Peer Positivity
Where I've recently seen this in action in business is in a peer to peer situation: one colleague committing to another to help with an accelerated deadline which required gathering more information. The offer went beyond formal collaboration and accountability, the helper was not accountable for the information or the end result, but certainly would benefit if all went well, as their two departments are closely linked.
It was spur of the moment good will. Peer to peer positivity. What made it noteworthy is that the two people have struggled with competing agendas for quite some time. One of them, after a 360 degree feedback process which pointed to her lack of support for peers, made the professional commitment to change her habits immediately. She has been disarming situations ever since.
The Competitive Streak: whose team are you on?
John Maxwell in The 360 Degree Leader suggests that leadership is possible through influence that reaches into all levels of the organization: the senior people above you on the org chart, your peers, and your direct reports.
Many of our clients grapple with peer to peer relationships. One of the telling items Maxwell puts on the list of behaviors for influencing your peers is to choose not to compete but to set the goal of completing projects together.
That's tricky, isn't it? So, often you have a split allegiance as a team leader responsible for your functional team on the one hand, what are you and the team rewarded on? And on the other hand, your allegiance is to your teammates who are your peers because it is the collective set of leaders who need to be aligned around direction and execution. But so often you are competing for resources or accolades or you may have very different perspectives on how to reach the ultimate goal.
We all want to provide value, to be seen and acknowledged for our contributions. When blind ego gets in the way, no one wins. Maxwell appeals to the perspective that allows a place for everyone on the team to contribute without competition:
- Allow the best idea to win – it may not be yours
- Avoid office politics – the behaviors here are classic detailers of positive culture: gossip, sarcasm, triangulation, stonewalling
- Expand your circle of acquaintances – build your network of allies; be an ally to others
- Don't pretend you’re perfect – especially hard as a new leader/manager
- Find common ground – this occurs personally and professionally, laying a foundation for shared goals
But my favorite item on his list is this: help others succeed. In so doing, everyone gets through the possible traffic jam with minimal angst.
Who have you supported today? Who have you surprised with your positivity and encouragement?