What does it mean to be a leader of leaders? There is no lack of books about leading those who are responsible to you due to your designated position in the church or organization. A leadership subject that is not often addressed is how to be a leader among those who are your peers. I was recently introduced to the term “lateral leadership” to describe this competency. We may know how to work with our supervisors or how to supervise others, but how do we work with others who are at the same level as we are?
Here are some things to consider in exercising lateral leadership.
1. Be a person of integrity. Of course, this should be true of any leader, but when you work with your peers, trust and respect are essential. Peers must know that you will follow through on your commitments and share not only responsibilities but recognition as well. Competency in your work is important, but consistency in word and deed is essential.
2. Cultivate and value relationships. In his book, Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferazzi explains that successful people develop and use the power of relationships so that everyone wins: “You can’t get there alone. In fact, you can’t get very far at all.” This is not just a transactional process where there is a direct one to one exchange of “You give me this and I will give you that.” This is a genuine investment in the lives of others. Relationships enrich our lives and pay off in unexpected ways.
3. Give to others. In Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant poses this question: “Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?” We are dealing here with one’s reciprocity preference.
Grant observes that people tend to be givers, takers, or matchers in social relationships. Takers like to get more than they give. Givers go the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Matchers seek an equal balance of giving and getting. The surprise in Grant’s research is that givers ultimately are more successful than matchers or takers.
Most important, Grant writes, “Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. You’ll see that the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it.”
In summary, the best way to exercise lateral leadership is to be a servant leader. As Jesus said, “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Luke 9:48, NIV) When we care for and support others, they will value us both as colleagues and coworkers. When we help them win, we win, too.