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Up The River (A Story About Peer Pressure)

Written by: Craig Twombly
Published: November 2012

As you might have read in Ralph's article, this is the time of year for all of us to reflect backwards to this past year. As I reflect back it has been another great year both personally and professionally. There's one thing I did learn that I'd like to talk about in my article this month. It's about Peer Pressure.

Yes, we all know what peer pressure is. An example that I can come up with about Peer Pressure is the influence our friends exerted on us (especially in high school) to get us to do crazy things or things that we would not normally do. I now look back and ponder, "What were we thinking!"

So what exactly is Peer Pressure? Webster's Dictionary defines Peer as one that is of equal standing with another: One belonging to the same societal group especially based on age, grade, or status, and Pressure's definition is the constraint of circumstance; the weight of social or economic imposition. Great it sounds exactly like what we all thought, but the true question is how much are we influenced by peer pressure in our jobs?

Whether we know it or not, we are faced with peer pressure every day when go to work. Many organizations I have worked with over the last several years have expressed frustration and irritation with the infamous "Water Cooler". The water cooler is where those secret meetings are held by employees and managers. The discussions involve people, processes and the organization and usually not in a positive tone. This informal level of leadership at the water cooler has caused much suffering and pain to people and organizations. It can be a challenge to the best of leaders to minimize and even eliminate the pressure that is exerted at the water cooler. It is often said it is easier to paddle with the flow of water than against it. There is pressure by individuals to fit in and join the negativity or as we discuss in the 10-80-10 rule the negative 10%.

I look back to an organization I have had the privilege of working with. Early in the process we focused on an organizational development process for all leaders and managers of the company. Early in the process it was met with skepticism from not only employees but managers. People complained they were too busy; they did have time this would never work and so on. The initiative that this leader was embarking on was risky but if successful would have lasting effect on the company’s financials and longevity. The leader began to receive pressure from others to stop and refocus on the fires that needed to be fought within the company.

This leader could very easily have pushed back the initiative or stopped all together. Instead he did not listen to all the noise in the background and took a hands-on approach. He got involved in the process and began asking questions of the management team. He did not get engaged in the water cooler, and instead asked questions and challenged what was said. He would listen deeply and, if the concerns were valid discuss, he would help to solve the situation. What this leader did that separates him from others was he did not take any comments brought to him as true. Instead he went to the source and made his own opinions and thoughts. This took a large amount of time and energy on his part. Along with this, he did not engage in the conversations and maintained an open mind.

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to reflect back at the success some of our clients and know that they have thrived and grown as a result of eliminating the "Water Cooler", Peer Pressure behaviors. Well, isn't that what organizational leaders are supposed to do? Absolutely...this is what they are supposed to do, and I'm happy to know that they are out there!

Craig Twombly

Craig Twombly

Craig is the primary facilitator at Priority Learning, he is responsible for conducting an array of leadership series offered and consulting assignments from communications to team development in organizations ranging from the service industries to finance, manufacturing and more. Having extensive experience at balancing the business needs with the wants and desires of people are Craig's strongest assets.