Peer Leadership: 8 Thoughts On How To Make The Most Of An Opportunity, Others, and Yourself

This week’s post comes to you in the form of a guest submission from CSP Strength Coach, Greg Robins.  Greg is the creator of The Strength House and also a guy who practices what he preaches in everything from strength training to leadership style.  

I asked Greg to pull together his thoughts on a concept I came across while reading a book titled Speaking as a Leader, by Judith Humphrey.  In the text, Humphrey mentions the idea of “leading from the side”, which I thought perfectly encapsulated the way Greg went about grasping an even greater leadership role here in our Massachusetts facility upon Eric’s departure to sunny Florida.

This is his take on leading from the side.  As you’ll see, he prefers to call it Peer Leadership. 



Recently, Pete was kind enough to not only pay me a compliment, but also ask me to elaborate on one of my strengths as an employee of Cressey Sports Performance.

Oddly enough, what he asked me to write about isn’t something I do via calculated moves, or even 100% consciously, I suppose. 

My understanding is that Pete was reading a book about leadership that prompted him to consider my unique style of leading.  In said book, the author talked about leadership coming from different levels of an organization.  In short, there are three scenarios:

1.     Top Down

2.     Bottom Up

3.     Side

Leadership from the top would be an example of managerial leadership.  Bottom-up leadership requires that employees think critically to influence the decisions of their superiors through suggestion and example.  Leadership from the side is a tricky one, and happens to be the focus of this article.

Leadership from the side means gaining the respect of both the top and bottom, while being a voice that represents everyone.  I personally define this as “Peer Leadership.”

Pete was kind enough to acknowledge my efforts at CSP as those of quality peer leadership.  Allow me to explain how I cultivated my leadership style, and continue to adjust my approach today.



The first question to ask yourself is “Am I a leader?” I believe we all have the potential to be great leaders. For some of us it could require more work than for others, as we may need to make great changes in who we are and how we operate.

Assuming a leadership role is something I truly enjoy, and is also something I can’t help but do. I have always been drawn to wanting to help, and wanting to step up. There are, in fact, a few resume-worthy items in my past that qualify me to lead others.

For starters, I completed Officer Candidate School (OCS) in the ARMY National Guard.  This was essentially a yearlong course in learning to be a leader.  My military experience is where I learned the greatest lessons in becoming a leader. However, OCS is not where THE greatest lesson was learned.

My greatest challenge in life, to this point, was ARMY basic training.  The physical aspect was tough at times, but the greatest challenge was entering Basic Training as an enlisted Officer Candidate.  This meant that in the second week of an eighteen-week program my drill sergeants placed me in a leadership position, which I would hold for the remainder of training.

As I was told: “If you want to be an officer, you may as well start learning how to lead now.”

Serving, as a new Second Lieutenant is a significant challenge, as you have to earn the respect of your peers.  However, you do have rank, and it must be acknowledged.  In basic training, I had no rank at all.  It was my job to influence 40 men, ages 18 to 42, to listen to me.  I learned quickly that a leader is effective only when the people he leads want to follow him.  In that eighteen-week period I learned what it takes to make that happen.

I went on to be the distinguished honor graduate of my OCS class, and I owe that to the lessons learned in basic training.  During the two-year period between Basic Training and OCS I formed my own definition of leadership that I stick to today:

Leadership is being willing and able to do what you ask of others.

Below are 8 thoughts on how I did it then, and how I have strived to be a leader since that time.


1. Discipline

I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.
— Robert E. Lee

If you want to lead others, you need to have the discipline to carry yourself as you want your peers to.  This starts with learning to follow.  When you follow well, you understand a few very important things:

  • You know your role - You honor the fact you are not in charge, and you understand where you fit into an organization as a whole.
  • Listen and accept - A great follower listens to direction, accepts criticism without rebuttal, and acts on these items to be the person his team needs him to be.
  • Serve the overall goal - An effective follower acts in a way to always serve what the team’s goal is. Each move they make is done so selflessly.
  • Stay humble - Following is the first step in learning humility.  You don’t look for accolades, or the spotlight.  Instead, you learn to do what is right and you find happiness in knowing that you’ve played a pivotal role, regardless of whether or not you are acknowledged for it.
  • Loyalty - Following well is a lesson in loyalty.  Stay committed to the people who give you an opportunity to be a part of something greater. 

2. Character

What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leaders are people of tremendous character.  While each leader may be comprised of different characteristics, who they are and what they stand for makes them someone people want to listen to and respect.  There are a few characteristics I can identify in both myself, and the people I have looked up to:

  • Humility -  In order to lead, one must accept responsibility for the outcomes in which they have been of great influence.  A leader is willing to take the blame, and willing to admit their faults.
  • Compassion -  "The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership." This is a Colin Powell quote that I was introduced to by my cadre in OCS.  It is the framework for peer leadership.  You want to be someone that cares.  Your peers should see you as a safe place to bring their troubles, ideas, and even successes.
  • Courage -  Courage comes in many forms, and is a common quality found in effective leaders.  Have the courage to volunteer for the tough jobs.  Have the courage to be candid, and say what needs to be said.  Have the courage to accept failure as a possible outcome, and the responsibility that accompanies it.

3. Communicate Effectively

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.
— Colin Powell

If you want to lead, you need to be able to communicate effectively.  Communication is crucial in getting a group of people to achieve a singular task.  In order to communicate effectively, one must understand a few principles:

  • Be clear and concise -  Practice what I call calculated communication.  Weigh the options, understand the issue, and then offer direction in an easily understood format.  Words can leave a lot of room for interpretation if you let them.
  • Words matter - Abraham Lincoln once said that "tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves."  I believe this to mean that, in order to lead, one must have a high level of emotional intelligence.  Who am I talking to?  Where are they coming from?  How will they interpret what I say?  Having “tact” becomes the difference-maker.  What you say, if often less important than how you say it. 


4. Lead from the front

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.
— Albert Einstein

I have always been a lead-by-example type of person.  I believe that actions will always speak louder than words.  You need to BE THE EXAMPLE.  

This process starts by having a commanding presence.  You must carry yourself with confidence, always.  When it’s time to speak, be heard.  Acknowledge that, as a leader, you set the precedence for your peers.  Body language, composure, and appearance have the ability to keep order amongst a group of people without a single word being said.  

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, "The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

5. Inspire

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

As a leader, you are in the unique position to make others better.  I think that is AWESOME.  When we inspire people, leading isn’t all that difficult.  Everyone shares a common goal and wants to help accomplish it.  So, how’s that done?

  • Empower -  General George Patton once said "Never tell people how to do things.  Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."  Empowering others, in short, means trusting them.  As a leader, your peers believe in you.  By giving them responsibility, and the trust to carry out a task without micro-management, you are showing the same belief in them.  A sign of quality leadership is when other leaders are born from their systems and encouraged to emerge. 
  • Champion individuality -  One of the key ingredients to empowerment is embracing individuality.  Many people think the military strives to brainwash its members with the intention of creating a clone of the ideal follower.  This is a false assumption.  In fact, freethinking is what gets people ahead in the military and in life.  As a leader, you should show that you are human, and encourage others to embrace who they are by leveraging their strengths.
  • Find the bright spots and cut critics loose, fast - Critics are like a cancer to an organization.  You know the people I’m talking about.  These are the individuals who first find fault in every situation.  A leader is not a critic, and it is the job of a leader to elevate the opinions of those who are not critical.  Leaders find solutions.  If you want to lead, you must find the people around you who do the same and make it readily apparent that their outlook is valuable.

6. "We" not "Me"

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
— Lao Tzu

Personally, I do not seek the spot light. I do not ask for it, or feel my actions are calculated in such a way to be appointed a title or accolades.  In fact, I struggle to accept praise, which is something to work on.

This mindset has helped me become a better peer leader.  I’d much rather be able to say: “we did something”, as opposed to “I did something”.  In fact, I didn’t know how I felt about writing this article.  Because it made me uncomfortable in some ways, I felt it was worth trying.

Narcissism is not a quality of a great leader.  Empower the team, and make as little as possible about YOU.

I am often impressed in the way that true leaders make ME feel great after being around them.  However, I have walked away from many experiences with people in “leadership roles” feeling like I could have said just about anything and they still would have found a way to make it about THEM.

I like the phrase “lead from the front”.  Remember that selflessness is one of the examples that should be set.

7. Make the choice

Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.
— Harold S. Geneen

As we come to the last two thoughts, I would encourage you to make the choice to lead.  You could positively impact many lives by simply making this choice.  This starts by raising your hand.  I have shared many thoughts and experiences with you, but I can’t teach you to lead.  Nor can any book, or speaker.

The first step is in stepping up.

Once you have tried and failed, try again.  Success takes time.  Sure, read the books.  Listen to the motivators.  In their experiences, you can find affirmation, much like I have demonstrated by inserting quotes throughout this article. This is only possible when having your own experiences to draw from, first.

There are no pre-requisites to being a leader.  Leading amongst your peers is where great leadership is born.

8. Peer leadership is leadership

A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.
— M.D. Arnold

I am lucky enough to work for a guy like Pete who considers all of us his peers.  He treats us like peers, and that’s because he is a quality leader.

Leadership means having the respect of everyone from the top to the bottom, and from side to side.

Let me leave you with a few last points to get you started in earning that kind of respect:

  • Listen -  Listen to your peers.  Listen completely, and actively.  If you do, your role as a leader will shape itself.
  • Do you, stay you -  Be yourself.  When people look up to you and empower you, remember why that began and don’t lose sight of it, ever.
  • Own your role - Always keep the “I’ll do it” mentality.  You must empower others, but you must also be willing and able to do it yourself.  Have the confidence to be the guy or girl who praises others, teaches others, and constructively challenges others, all while understanding that nobody may do that for you moving forward. You must possess the wherewithal to do it to yourself.
  • Respect - You have to give it, to get it.

Now that you have a feel for how Greg leads from within the CSP-Mass team, I'd encourage you to continue following his work at The Strength House.  You should also consider joining us at our 4th Annual CSP Fall Seminar, scheduled for Sunday, September 13th here in Hudson, MA.  Greg will be a featured presenter and intends to be available throughout the day to chat with attendees.  Additional seminar information can be found here.