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Learning to Lead as Peers

The sorts of challenges facing leaders are rarely ones they can do on their own in isolation from other leaders and other organisations. Being able to lead together is critical for us in Leeds. But there is one thing knowing we need to lead together across places, organisations, values and hierarchies; its another thing completely to do it well.

We know, cross-organisational, cross-team working is problematic by definition. No team is the same; no partnership works in exactly the same way; they draw on different pasts, and, they have different ambitions for the future. Leading as Peers is about moving from managing the parts of the system to leading the whole, from competition to coordination, collaboration and co-design.

In a research paper for our Leading as Peers work CIHM provides a frank description of peer working at its worst, based on interviews with senior managers across the north of England: “It is often a euphemism for working with someone you see as inferior, but need. Mostly they think they’d rather do it alone – all peer working is a compromise. Respect and confidence in each other are key – but mostly missing. Because you need them you avoid conflict, and therefore fail. It’s much harder to do it together! Everyone secretly believes they could do it better on their own.”

So if our experience is of peer leadership being difficult what do we need to do to do it well?

There are some key steps to working well as peers that we have developed at  CIHM


  1. Recognising and respecting everyone’s perspective as valid – just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean the other person is wrong.
  2. Coming from an asset base – looking for what each can offer and growing and developing together, not relaying on experts.
  3. Starting with listening and stepping into each other’s shoes
  4. Generating a shared ambition – what do we want to do together?


  1. Generating shared language – as a colleague of mine says – the problems with words is that they have been in other people’s mouths! Often in developing ‘togetherness’ we assume because we say the same words we mean the same things. Take time to explore the meaning behind the statements. Take time to understand each other.

Systems Accountability

  1. Peer working is always easier when the ride is smooth, but we are working in turbulent times – peer leaders need agreements about how we are going to act when the going gets tough, how we will work in service to this place not just our own individual parts; and what we need from each other to make that happen.

More Leaders for Leeds is really working to put this in practice – our breakfast sessions help each of us understand each other’s perspectives, ambitions, talents; our work in designing the whole programme of work is noon-hierarchial we work as peers from all parts of the system and across our own organisation’s hierarchies. We have a real sense we are ‘in it together’ .

Becky Malby, Director, CIHM University of Leeds. April 2012