Peer Leadership: How To Get It Right In 3 Steps

Promotion.  We all fight for it when we work for a company or someone else.  We want a new title, a raise, more responsibility, and more influence a promotion can give us.  One of the most difficult promotions is where it occurs amongst your peers.  Yes, I am talking about becoming a manager/leader amongst what was once your peer group.  Woe to the new leader that is not careful in understanding how difficult their position is.

Peer leadership is a wonderful thing.  It means that your management team has recognized your leadership potential and wants to elevate you.  It means that your peer group, who has followed your non-titled leadership when you were among them, will now follow you as their new manager.  They know you and what you can do!  You do not have to invest the time necessary to “get to know your team”, you already do.  Peer leadership is easier than stepping into the unknown.  That is why, if you do not prepare yourself, you will run the risk of being a poor leader.

Peer leadership is fraught with pitfalls and land mines.

Why? Well, because everyone already knows you… as their peer, not their leader.  They know your work habits, your performance, and your personality.  Most of the members of your team that you are leading look at you as that peer.  They have a formed opinion of who you are as a person.

Sure, you have the title that was given to you and the higher paycheck to boot.  What you do not have is their perception of you being their leader.

Three Common Mistakes

  • When individuals, like yourself, get promoted to lead your peers, you want to make a quick impression that things are different: you are in charge now.  You are no longer a peer, but different.  You start acting differently. Oops!  First major mistake!

In this case the newly minted leader comes across as authoritarian and heavy handed.  They use their new position to set themselves apart quickly from their peers in what seems like that they have forgotten their humble origins.  This leader also strictly enforces new standards that they did not follow as a peer.  This typically causes pushback from the team as they remember them as they were as a peer.  This results in a loss of respect for the new leader.

Conversely the new leader lacks a spine with their peers.  This leader is not going to be mean like the last boss, no! This leader is going to be a “friend.”  This is just as bad as the authoritarian approach to being different.  It is almost as if they are ashamed of being promoted.  Respect again is lost because teams need guidance, coaching, and a leader who justly enforces standards.  That is something a buddy cannot do.

  • The second mistake for the newly promoted leader is not being prepared to see more of the complexities behind the team.  As a peer amongst your teammates you get to see the interaction from a specific level.  In most instances your teammates are trying to put their best foot forward with you.  This means that you do not know all their faults and all the other extraneous reasons as to why they are not up to snuff when compared to you.  When you get promoted the curtain is lifted and you get to see more.

Leaders who are not prepared for this new revelation tend not to be as understanding as their predecessors.  They see these faults and weakness through the lenses of a peer and not a leader.  The result is that the leader pushes their new direct reports as if it is some sort of payback.  This breeds the feeling amongst the team that the new leader is singling people out.

  • Lastly, the newly promoted leader is not ready to take charge.  This means that they do not have a plan in place for specific steps to set their best foot forward.  In the book The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins, talks about how important it is to have a plan for the new leader.  Essentially a plan helps a leader keep focus, establish trust with their team, and build a vision for the future.  All leaders have ninety days to get it right, or their teams and their “leadership” is doomed to fail at worst or be mediocre at best.

Typically leaders who are promoted amongst their peers do not have a plan in place.  This makes them unorganized and ill prepared for the challenges of leadership amongst their peers.

How To Get It Right

  • Have a plan for how you will transition from peer to leader.  If being a leader is something that you desire, then you should be working on this transition plan constantly.  If being promoted is out of the blue; immediately start planning.  A plan is important to solidifying your leadership and building a strong foundation of trust and respect amongst your team.
  • Approach your team as if it were new and not a team of your peers.  Work to learn how each member operates as member of that team.  Embrace the strengths that you are already aware of and everything else you will learn about your team.  Build upon their strengths and promote their success.  Work on improving their weaknesses to make a stronger team and promotable members.
  • Set a tone that recognizes your previous status as a peer and your new status as their leader.  Convene an expectations meeting at the start of your new position.  This meeting allows your team to set their own standards and expectations they have on themselves and you.  It will also allow you, their leader, to place your standards and expectations as well.  This helps you be just when you have to bring your team back in line.  It also reduces the perception of you dictating or being authoritarian since everyone on the team agreed to the new standards.

Being a leader is difficult enough.  Being promoted amongst your peers can be the hardest position to be in.  (That is one reason why the Army moves battlefield commissioned officers into different units than have them lead their peers.)  If you plan, listen, and recognize that leadership is about promoting the successes of your team you will beat the 90% that fail at leading their peers.

Have you been promoted amongst your peers?  What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

About the author:

Erroin A. Martin is a Business Advocate with the Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC, a business coaching and consultancy provider for business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs. He has fifteen years experience working within the pharmaceutical, manufacturing, natural resources, medical devices, software, technology, business services, and agriculture industries in various levels of leadership across six continents. He has led diverse teams in sales, marketing, planning, and in the Army.  He currently coaches business leaders and physicians in the tools needed, like social media, to plan for their success. Learn more about the Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC at or call +1 203 433 8079.  You can follow him on Twitter at @Erroin

The Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC, was founded by Erroin A. Martin to provide business coaching, business consulting, and other services to companies both large and small.  The primary goal is to have his clients be passionate about their business and reach the unachievable.

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