A few years back, I was facilitating a team that was responsible for pulling off a project in a completely new technology. This also meant that each one of the team members had to take initiative and explore new areas of the technology.
While the project had a designated project lead, we saw many team members who demonstrated “peer leadership”. Simply put, peer leadership happens when people at go beyond hierarchy and demonstrate leadership skills. It is the kind of leadership that exists among equals.
We had one particular team member who would think forward, anticipate issues and flag them to the team. He was also the one who pointed out some of the most important elements of the projects that the team missed. He was clearly a peer-leader, because the other team members started looking up to him as someone who carried higher visibility into the project (or some areas of the project).
Based on this and a few other experiences, here are a few important lessons I learned in peer leadership:
Peer leadership stems from an individual’s choice to do a great job. It is also a result of an individual’s know how of the subject matter.
Peer leadership transcends the traditional hierarchical structure where everyone on the team has an equal opportunity to lead and follow at the same time.
Organizations/leaders should foster peer leadership to engage and motivate people to think beyond their documented responsibilities and grow in the process.
Bottom-up innovation is generally a result of personal leadership from people at all levels within an organization.
To foster peer leadership, it is important to build a culture of empowerment where people are driven by the broad vision of the project/organization and are empowered to execute their decisions.
Peer leadership happens in a team context, and is very closely related to personal leadership at an individual level.
So here are two critical questions:
If you are a manager/leader, how do you foster peer leadership amongst team members where each member leads a part of the project?
If you are a professional, how can you elevate your work to differentiate and lead?
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