One of the most difficult kinds of leadership is leading your peers. Several job interviewers ask this when sizing up a prospective hire. Executive leadership requires belief but it comes with power. You either follow or quit. Peer leadership requires conviction that the person in charge is one whom you trust and are willing to follow even though they have no authority over you. So why believe? One way out of this is to lead by a combination of action and influence. To be a successful peer to peer leader, you must give your colleagues reasons to respect and follow you. This is achieved by helping your peers win. If you can help them win, you will not only help the organization, but yourself as well.”
For most upcoming leaders, this is probably the most difficult challenge they will ever face. more than a few of them have fumbled the ball when they’ve been required to lead a team of peers. Here are some key ingredients for succeeding when it comes to leading your peers.
- Be competent at what you do: This is probably the foundation of not just peer leadership, but leadership in whatever circumstance. If you cannot do your own bit well, your followers will not respect you, period. This is even more important for a peer leader. You must be good at your job and have what it takes to do it because this gives the perception of a credible leader. Competence is the first validation in the eyes of your peers and is a big step towards achieving your leadership goals.
- Make your expectations known: This might require a candid conversation with your peers. Whichever approach you choose to take, make sure you convey clearly that you’re committed to your team and the company and your values as a leader. It’s also important to let your peers know that they can talk about their concerns and expectation with you as well. Create an atmosphere that encourages honest feedback – especially when your followers think you are being unjust. There will be times when you will have to make decisions that are for the good of the team and the goals that you set out to achieve, even if you don’t personally like to make them.
- Accept their suggestions: This is a “let the best plan win” method of operating. The same way you would like your boss to listen to and honestly consider your ideas is the way your peers would like you to listen to theirs. You mustn’t get your way all the time to prove that you’re in charge. Letting the best idea win is about winning respect and influence with your peers so that you can help the whole team win. Be a team player and acknowledge when your idea is not the best one. It’s important to recognize where you can add value when you let your idea go and let the best idea win.
- Play both roles well: This requires maturity and a certain level of tact, but if you can master it, it will be of immense benefit to you and your team. To do this, try and identify what role you are playing when interacting with your team members. One example is when a peer tells you of an unfortunate personal event that requires his attention. Your reply could be something like: “As your friend, I am so sorry – that’s messed up! As the team leader, I can give you a day to take care of your problem and then we’ll need you back.”
- Get new acquaintances: Every leader needs to build relationships with other leaders, to find mentors, and get coaching. There is nothing like a group of people who understand the challenges you experience and can share meaningful wisdom. You can start to expand your circle with the people in your circle. Every friend of yours has a friend you don’t know. As you lead your peers, your connections will benefit them, as well. You’ll ultimately provide more value and gain more influence among them.