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Lead your peers by stepping back

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in Best-Practices Leadership

Before administrative professional Ilja Kraag wrestles for too long with a difficult task at work, she checks in with her peers. “How do you do it?” she asks them.

“I notice that when you talk to others, someone usually says, ‘I know how to do that.’ I’m the rare duck that always likes to share,” she says.

“It’s amazing how most of us keep reinventing the wheel instead of checking with colleagues. Just in my building, we have about 200 admins. Even when people work in a small group, they tend to work in their own little box. I reach out. Why not?”

That trait—reaching out to others—is what makes Kraag a natural leader. The org chart may not show it, but Kraag, an assistant who has worked at Kaiser Permanente for 19 years, leads her peers by setting the right example.

More suggestions for leading your peers:

√ Find the pain. Often, it’s easier to step forward and lead your peers when there’s a crisis or an urgent need, such as a process that’s malfunctioning or customers who aren’t being served. That’s when action from the middle—versus the top—is invaluable.

√ Listen more than you speak. Find out if colleagues want or need help. Then simply listen. Size up the situation and assess what you can do.

√ Stand back. Lend a hand or offer direction, but don’t try to take over. Remember that you are a colleague, not a boss.

For example, because Kraag likes to share, she created a web site for her colleagues with all the “handy-to-know and handy-to-have” bits of information she thought others might appreciate.

“It was meant for my Southern Cali­for­nia region,” she says. “However, it is now used nationally at all of the Kaiser facilities because admins are now sharing this information by e-mailing the link to my web site to their colleagues and managers. Yes, even the managers and directors, physicians and nurses use my site.”

√ Watch your step. Peer leadership is fraught with peril. Some people might overreach, or try to do something they don’t have the authority to do. And some may run into a co-worker rivalry.

But if you do it well, by showing you’re more interested in helping the company succeed than in shining your own star, you’ll get noticed.

Leading peers positions you as someone who knows how to make things happen.

— Adapted from “How to lead your peers,” John Baldoni, SmartBlog on Leadership.

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