From self-made heroes to peer-support systems.

Wouter Smeets

Wouter Smeets

Oprichter Prototype You

Five types of peer-support to speed up your personal development.

Hero stories. They are everywhere.

Stories about self-made heroes who – often against all odds – achieved great success through grit, raw talent and an unmatched vision.

They have become quite a persistent narrative in our Western society. Achieving goals is often assumed to be mostly driven by the individual, while the impact of relational factors on goal success are often overlooked (Hester & Gore, 2015).

Although personal willpower is an important ingredient to succeed in achieving goals, we can benefit greatly from the power of social learning: learning from and with other people.

People can support us by sharing their own obstacles (peer recognition), shine light on our blind spots, bring in fresh perspectives or expertise, and inspire us to move forward faster. After all, from our earliest age we learn by looking at – and copying – other people’s behaviour.

Come to think of it, it’s quite fascinating.

You are the director of your development, yet it’s other people who are the key to your personal development success.

Then again, what can a director really achieve without producers, camera (wo)men and a cast of actors? Partnering up with other people can increase your chances of success to achieve your learning and development goals in big ways. Within Prototype You we identify five types of roles that can support you on your personal development journey.

Five types of peer-support.

  1. Accountability partner: Personal development can at times be scary, uncomfortable or just really hard. An accountability partner helps you live up (stick) to your commitments and motivates you when the going gets tough. Public commitments to one another will increase the likelihood of following up on one’s plans. An accountability partner is someone you trust (or can build trust with) and who you feel you can be candid with. Successful partners help each other move forward with their goals and celebrate learning success. They often stick together for a longer period of time through many learning cycles.
  2. Expert: Somebody who can help you move forward on a specific personal development goal by teaching you from their vast amount of knowledge and experiences on a specific topic. Let’s say you want to become an experienced scrum master, public speaker, software developer or financial professional. Then it helps to involve experienced individuals who already have a vast amount of expertise in that area, so that you can learn from them. Experts are part of your learning experience for as long as your development topic is relevant to their expertise.
  3. Mentor: Someone who understands who you are, what you want to achieve and who has the position and experience to guide you towards those long-term ambitions. This can also be a coach who helps you understand better who you are and how to grow. A mentor who understands and sees the importance of your ambitions can influence your motivation and journey in positive ways. 
  4. Supporter: Where would we be without our supporters? A supporter cheers you on unconditionally and is excited for your wins. They promote feelings of safety and security that can reduce self-doubt and keep you motivated. Unlike the previous three roles, supporters do not focus on accountability, expertise, or experience to help you move forward. Instead, they focus on being there for you regardless, by listening to your story, appreciating your journey and making you feel understood. 
  5. Environment & tools: Who said a partner needs to be human? You can get creative! For example, you can see your environment and tools as buddies who can play a positive role in your personal development. You can try to nurture an inspiring, activating and safe growth environment that provides tools, opportunities to practice, peer-to-peer support systems, and knowledge of learning best practices. Think of tools where you can schedule your actions, receive reminders and enter personal insights. Think of a token, vision board or drawing that positively reminds you of the importance of your goals every day. Try to shape your environment to support you on your journey of personal development.

So, what to do next?

You can create (or expand) your own peer-support structure in four simple steps: 

  1. Define your personal development goal
  2. Define who can help you move forward on that goal and how (look at the five categories for inspiration: who can help you with what?)
  3. Reach out to the people on your list and ask them if they want to be part of your support system (make sure to ask what kind of support you require)
  4. Just start and figure out what works for you. Experiment, learn and nurture your support system!


It is possible that a person plays multiple partnering roles, but more often than not – in an organisational context – your peer-support structure will consist of different people taking on different roles. Traditionally this may include peers, direct colleagues, mentors, managers, HR colleagues, family or friends. However, don’t get bogged down in job titles and roles. Consider how all your relationships might be able to support you in achieving your goals. 

You can have (partly) overlapping or different peer-support systems for different personal goals. Over time, your peer-support structure for a specific goal may change as well. 

Finally, bear in mind that more people in your peer-support system doesn’t necessarily make it better. Think quality over quantity. In the end the key is to be intentional about who you select, how you want that person (or tool) to support you on your journey, and whether this person is able to give what you need to move forward (for example alignment in values, availability, and how they provide feedback).

I am curious. Do you already have your peer-support structures in place? Do you have additional peer-support tips to share? Or what would you like to learn more? I would love to read your feedback. 


Hester, R., Gore, J.S. Mechanisms that Foster Relational Motivation. Psychol Stud 60, 50–55 (2015).

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