Peer Leadership

The internet is teeming with information on a wide range of topics around leadership.  And it was during my reading of Zite – an iPad application that brings articles on key topics to you through learning what you want to read – that I started to let my mind think about what makes a great leader.  In particular I thought about how critical it  is being a leader of not just those that work for you, but those that work with you, that is your peers.

Peer Leadership is Golden

True Leadership Is Informal

If it is your desire to become a CEO, President, or Supreme Ruler, then there is no grudge held here.  If it is your desire to improve yourself, your family, and your community then title alone is not enough.  You have to have influence.  To have influence you must be able to lead your peers.

Peer leadership is really about the golden rule: do onto others, as you would have them do onto you.

via Peer Leadership Is Golden.

When I first read this article from Ezine Articles on Peer Leadership I was immediately struck by the title as it resonated with how I was thinking, feeling and acting.  It is safe to say the article is quite brief and after having just read it again I feel as though a conversation has been started but is no where near close to being ended.

Scanning the internet for resources on this topic has me still feeling incomplete and, to be honst, empty inside.  The best way to describe how I feel is as if someone has waved a scrumptious chocolate fudge sundae under my nose and then “poof” it has just disappeared.    I am sure there are plenty of papers and articles on this topic because it makes sense for it to be a widely discussed topic.

I was able to find some references to research into sporting teams and the concept of peer leadership.  This makes a lot of sense.  Sporting teams will generally have a captain and coach but in the heat of the moment on the field or court, there are times when it is not the captain leading but another player.  Being a true on field leader in these instances is actually about providing the environment for others to lead.  Think about the best on field sporting leaders, they will definitely not always be in the action or even yelling commands, instead they are the leaders that support their team mates to succeed.  They encourage others to step up and “win” the contest, whilst all the time taking every opportunity to show leadership through actions.  You see them.  In Australian Rules parlance, they are the leaders throwing themselves in front of a fierce contest to spoil a pass, they are making that hard tackles and doing the 1%ers whenever and wherever possible.

But what is peer leadership in the context of the “business world”?

For me, peer leadership is not just leadership by example.  I agree it includes the “ten commandments – do onto others as you would have them do onto you”, but it goes beyond just these two aspects.

Peer leadership within any organisation is being inspirational in your thoughts, actions and words to everyone around you.  If you see or identify a situation or a problem between your peers, it is helping them work through the issue.  If you see a peer struggling, it is providing that helping hand whether it be financially or operationally.  It is about forgetting about what you are responsible for and stepping into the position of thinking about what the organisation is responsible for and then acting accordingly.  It is being accountable and transparent in all your actions, and when a situation arises that has conflict, it is about recognising that, stepping into it and helping resolve that conflict, whether it be between you and a peer or between two of your peers.

I sometimes see peer leadership best exampled when there is a change of the leader of the peer leaders (i.e. your boss).  In some circumstances there may be a time when no-one is steering the ship or alternatively there is a handover occurring between leaders.  It is during this time that peer leadership takes organisations to the next level.  During these times, peer leadership organisations thrive because the leadership team, does exactly what these two separate words mean.  Let’s pause and think about these two words both separately and together.

A “Leadership team” is a collective or group of people that generally report to the same overall leader as “direct reports”.  Essentially they come together representing their individual teams and work to achieve the overall organisation goals.  However, it is more than that.  For me, these two words are taken too often as a status symbol and a “collective” mindset occurs that makes it almost appear that this “leadership team” is a singular word to represent a meeting rather than what it really should mean.

It is the power of each individual word in “leadership team” that makes true leadership.  Firstly,  every person in the “leadership team” needs to be a leader, not a boss, but a leader through inspiration and example.  Then, the mindset needs to be around being a team.  And this is where peer leadership really plays a key part.

So, returning to the sporting link from earlier.  Within a leadership team, being a peer leader, is all about those 1%ers.  It is about tackling not just your direct opponent but anyone of the opposition so you can help release the ball to your team mates.  It is about laying that bump or putting in that shepherd (or blocking for other codes) so your team mate can succeed.  It is about supporting your peers so you can see them achieve their goals whilst at the same time achieving the teams (organisations) goals.

In my view, there are not enough peers leaders.  Leadership seems to be  seen as a competition on an individual level, rather than a team sport.  I appreciate there is a pyramid of roles in an organisation and only one person can be the CEO, but if getting to the top means showing how good you are, and how bad everyone else is, well, then the organisation itself has some major problems to contend with.  We all see it when we read the papers about organisations and their leaders.  How often do you see a leader stepping back and rather than being in the limelight, allowing others to be in the limelight and supporting them from behind?  Not very often, but when you do, it is truly noticeable and amazing to be a part of.



Scott North has extensive experience in enterprise risk management, internal audit, operational risk and compliance, risk strategy, scenario planning, technology risk, technology business analysis, systems design, financial accounting, and management accounting. Scott is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Chartered Accountants with a Masters Degree from the University of Melbourne in Business and Information Technology. Scott is also a Fellow of the University of Melbourne.

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