Peer Leadership: Living the Program Model
When you look at the staff page of Exponential Education, you see a common theme: young, passionate and skilled. The organization has a collective age span of around 7 years. That’s not much, when you consider that most organizations are powered by a diverse group – older, younger, foreign and local. Yet management positions exist, leadership models are recognized and professional development occurs. In my final term as the Director of Operations, I’ve realized that there is a certain symmetry between the staff, our mission and our participating students. The competencies we pass on are a direct bridge to our small team dynamics and the lessons therein.
A staff family photo in October 2015
In a previous post, the Power of Peer to Peer, Program Associate Julie Rondeau details her observation that former JHS students model their tutor’s behavior by helping other students of their own volition. The torch has been passed – from tutor to tutee and onwards. Similarly, when you walk into the Exponential Education office in Ejisu, it’s normal to see several heads together, deep in conversation about midterm assessments, sharing activities, discussing potential funding sources or brainstorming new ways to integrate with the community. All of us come to the table with different strengths and, just like our students, are more than willing to share knowledge and expand a colleague’s skillset.
The primary competency required for successful peer leadership, is agility. I move between many roles throughout the day – roommate, friend, supervisor, co-worker, leader. Peer leadership is different than other kinds of leadership. In order to be successful, I must distinguish between which hat I wear as I move throughout my day. Periodically, I swap hats depending on what my staff need. I’m constantly assessing – is this a friend moment? Professional? Personal? This finely tuned sense of awareness requires me to be agile so I can effectively target needs and shore up any weaknesses.
Staff meeting in the morning, football match buddies in the evening
Within the emphasis on agility, there is an overriding sense of trust. To be a peer leader, the focus is not on me, what I can bring to the program. I lead with the project at hand. Putting aside all senses of entitlement in the effort to develop the best possible outcome for the organization. This strips away the fact that we’re all pretty much the same age – the focus is on the program and what each of us can do to make it better. This develops a sense of trust, allowing all of us to do our jobs more effectively. In the end, we’re like our students: sharing knowledge and inspiration for the sake of greater understanding and opportunity.
“Sometimes the best way to put yourself forward is to take a step back.”