This blog was first posted in February 2022 on my LinkedIn pages and has been updated accordingly.
Just over 2 years ago I founded a new, free peer network for leaders across sectors and industries. I have been fortunate to be both a member and facilitator of peer learning networks from within organisations and across sectors and professions. I know how powerful and timely peer learning can be.
Having worked with a wide variety of organisations, listening to their current challenges and witnessing the complexity of changes that leaders are grappling with, I set out to create a space to support, resource and inspire leaders. Maja Stanic-Bibic and I collaborated to design and launch Leaders Together Apart (LTA) with a genuine curiosity about how it would develop.
When we passed our one-year anniversary, it felt timely to reflect on where we were and what next. At that time we had had a total of 24 leaders participating from six countries working in very different environments. They all shared what peer learning has meant for them personally, often with an element of surprise.
Being an effective thinking partner with limited time
We assume that we need to understand the context of a challenge, the cultural setting, what has already happened, etc. The most common reaction we have had from leaders after their first sessions is their genuine surprise at being able to quickly support thinking in organisations they know nothing about.
We have used techniques that prevent people getting lost in the ‘stories’ attached to challenges. There is often resonance with the underlying themes that problems surface, and participants tell us that they leave with valuable, actionable insights.
“A fantastic community in which to share leadership conundrums and get high quality support, challenge and advice quickly. I always come away feeling energised”. Sarah Acton, Project Fellow Researching Management Development as part of the Good Employment Learning Lab, Manchester Metropolitan University
Fresh stimulus brings new energy
As part of the process leaders listen to groups discussing their challenge without engaging in the discussion. New perspectives often spark an insight or reflection because of the diversity of experiences and approaches in the network.
Many of these relate to areas where leaders can extend their influence and step out of their comfort zone. Leaders share actions that they will take away and implement, and there is often an element of surprise at their renewed energy around what is possible. A fresh pair of eyes and ears really does work. We do not always notice that our thinking and problem solving is getting stale.
“I have found the group discussions invaluable to gain impartial advice and to share ideas… I have been able to take a refreshed approach to key issues.” Andrew Edmondson, Global Contact and Technology Manager, British Council
Knowing that I add value
These experienced leaders have been surprised at how energising and rewarding helping others to explore their challenges has been. It is not something that most of them engage in regularly. We make the two-way exchange clear from the outset by inviting leaders who want to grow and give back.
But many at first struggle to recognise what value they can add to the conversations. Is this about how leaders view themselves, or is something lacking in how organisations and professional associations recognise, value and share leadership expertise across boundaries?
Whilst I see some peer learning techniques like mentoring becoming more popular, siloed working is still predominant and many organisations lack informal and formal peer learning processes. Those that exist are rarely focussed on leadership.
“This is an absolutely unique opportunity to meet and network with leaders all around the world, to bond and to get their advice. On top of all that, I was actually able to contribute with my own experiences and to help solve other participants’ challenges” Selma Avdajic Tisljar, VP Mobile Service Management International, Deutsche Telekom Bonn
This has stimulated my thinking about how we create social learning spaces that keep our practice and approaches to live problems fresh and allow space for reflection on who we are as leaders. These ‘spaces’ can take many forms from a discussion over coffee to being part of a formalised peer learning network.
I would love to hear about your own experiences of peer learning. Are you plugging into the wealth of expertise within your organisation and wider social networks? How could working with peers support you to develop as a leader?
The LTA Peer Learning Network meets every other month on Zoom and is now led by myself and Sarah Acton. If you’re interested in finding out more contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to explore what you could gain from joining one of our sessions.