Leading Your Peers: How to Do It Right

Last Updated Sep 6, 2011 3:34 PM EDT

One of the big questions job interviewers may ask is, Can you lead in a matrixed environment? Often that's another way of asking whether you have the skills to lead your peers. In some ways, that's one of the most difficult kinds of leadership. You have no authority; you have only influence.

If you want to know how to do it right, watch a professional catcher. As any baseball fan can tell you, catchers play a unique role on the team. When defense is on the field, they play a leadership role--but they are not managers. They lead by a combination of action and influence--which is exactly what you need to do in the office.

So how do catchers manage this feat? Here are the key ingredients:

Master your job. Of all the attributes of peer leadership, competence is the bedrock. If a catcher cannot catch or hit, he will not be respected. Same goes for a peer leader. You must be good at your job and have what it takes to do it. You are perceived to be credible.

Know the strengths of others. Catchers know the pitches that pitchers can make and so, like managers, they put them in positions where they can succeed. For team leaders they know what their teammates can do, and what they cannot do. They leverage their strengths so the team succeeds.

Offer perspective. By position they are the only defenders who look at the game from the perspective of the batter; they can see things other fielders cannot. Peer leaders, if they want to offer advice, need to be able to peek over the cubicle. That is, they need to see the business as management sees it.

Not that management is always correct but at least a peer leader maintains a broader view. Doing so puts the peer leader in a position to make suggestions to teammates that are in alignment with the strategic direction of the enterprise.

Spread confidence. Make others feel good about themselves. This is especially true for peer leaders. As a peer, you know what a teammate is experiencing because often you are feeling it yourself. You know if someone needs a pick me up, or even a kick in the pants. As a peer leader, you have earned the right to speak up.

There is another plus to catching. Many catchers become managers. Yogi Berra, Joe Torre and Jim Leyland are examples of catchers turned managers. Same goes for team leaders. They make ideal candidates for promotion because they already know how to lead.

Have a sense of humor. No catcher ever made his teammates laugh more than Yogi Berra, who as a Yankee catcher won 10 World Series titles with the New York Yankees.

In reference to leading others as peer, Yogi said it best, "Baseball is 90% mental -- the other half is physical." In other words, think before you act. Your teammates will respect you for it.

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image courtesy of flickr user, dbeck03

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