7 Ways You Can Lead Even if You’re Not a Leader

RAFT Team, January 23, 2023

We’ve talked about ways to actively pursue better leadership skills so you can impact your organization in the best ways possible. But what if you’re not a boss or supervisor? Can you still lead? Absolutely, emphatically yes! It's called peer leadership and it's vital. Studies show that everyone is capable of becoming a leader, especially in the form of peer leadership, because many of these pear leader traits can be learned. (Zippia)

A successful leader is one "who can understand people's motivations and enlist employee participation in a way that marries individual needs and interests to the group's purpose." (Harvard Business Review)

Peer leaders can accomplish this, even though they rarely have the authority to change something external like process, expectation, or education. Peer leaders can lead by intentionally changing their own behavior. This internal process of change takes motivation and discipline, but is definitely worth the effort.

While peer leaders rarely have the authority to change something external like process, expectation, or education, they can lead by intentionally changing their own behavior. This internal process of change takes motivation and discipline, but is definitely worth the effort.

In this article, we’ll explore 7 key ways to exemplify peer-to-peer leadership.

Anyone can be a leader, even if you're not "officially" awarded that title. By practicing the following traits, you’ll be an influencer and an asset to the entire team.

1. Positivity

Who doesn’t love a positive person in the workplace, one who can turn any negative situation upside down? Positivity is a gift, but if you’re not careful, striving for it in this way can come across as disingenuous. Why? Because positivity must come from a heart that truly believes in what is being said and acted upon.

Consider a few other ways you can promote positivity among your peers:

  • Make them feel safe. People think and act differently when they’re in a safe environment. They’re free to make mistakes, share off-the-wall ideas, and contribute in a way that a truly represents who they are. When they know you’ll enthusiastically accept what they bring to the table, they’ll rise to the challenge.
  • Give them purpose. Remind people of their importance in the work that you do and how they assist in the overall goals of the company. A team that contributes to the “why” instead of the “what” will perform much better.
  • Praise progress. Who doesn’t love a cheerleader who encourages them every step of the way? Even when things don’t go as well as expected, be the one who praises for any momentum forward.

2. Gratitude

Gratitude is a skill you can keep building for a lifetime. A powerful way to lead with peer leadership at work is to be grateful. Say thank you and notice the good. 94% of women and 96% of men agree that a grateful boss is more likely to be successful. So level up your performance and lead through gratitude. And since work is the least likely place for people to express gratitude, you have a lot of latitude to practice peer leading in this way. (Read more about the ways gratitude makes you a better leader here.)

3. Empathy

A recent survey noted that 86% of people said they are more successful at balancing their work and life concerns when they have a leader focused on empathy. By caring for your co-workers, you’re giving them the freedom to be more creative and assertive. Empathy helps you all thrive in all areas, not just work.

4. Honesty

No one likes someone who sugarcoats the truth. While this praise may feel good initially, honest feedback has lasting value. (It’s even more effective when delivered with empathy.) When you practice honesty, you’re creating a culture of honesty around you, which levels up team interactions.

Honesty also includes transparency. If you make a mistake, own it. If you misquote someone, apologize. Be honest about any challenges you’re having on tasks you’ve been given. The more you learn to be a straight shooter who cares about people, the more people will come to you for guidance and advice.

5. Good Listener

Peer leaders know how to listen. Learn to ask great questions, then listen fully to people’s answer. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted when you listen. By remaining present, you’re letting the person speaking know that what they think and feel is important to you.

Listen with compassion. Instead of wrestling with discomfort or irritation, put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it’s like through their eyes, not through your own filter. And remember, sometimes people don’t want a solution , they just want a listening ear. Before you jump to solving the problem for them, ask them if they just needed to talk it out or if they want potential solutions.

6. Flexibility

Don’t be the person who insists the team always do things the same way. Be flexible. Embrace the talents and strengths of your team and explore ways to work together more effectively. Maybe instead of a face-to-face team meeting, you could have a virtual meeting once in a while. Be willing to modify your style or approach to situations. Be open to revising plans. You might just help your team stumble onto a brilliant solution to a problem no one even knew you had.

7. Dependable

Be the person who always shows up. Who responds to emails. Who asks for help when it’s needed so deadlines aren’t missed. And who looks out for the needs of others. When you’re consistently looking for ways to grow your skill set and show up for the good of the group, you’ll be well on your way to effective peer leadership.

When you take the time to pursue these seven traits, you'll be instrumental in leading your team, even without the title of "leader."