Whether you are running a business for someone else, or you are the chief executive of your own business, the struggle is real. There is never an easy path when you are the one steering the organization and there is no time like a world pandemic to make things even more challenging.
In these interesting times, it can often feel lonely at the top and there is always someone or something pulling at the edges of your attention and, all with competing priorities. In situations like this, it is helpful to get independent and outside opinions. This is where the power of a CEO Peer Advisory Group can be a critical success factor.
Peer Advisory Groups have been around since 1727, when Benjamin Franklin formed the Junto, a weekly mutual-improvement club made up of individuals with an array of interests and skills. An important dynamic of these groups is the independent collective of knowledge sharing, support, accountability, and shared achievement. This is a cycle of learning and working together that creates a momentum of success in all aspects for the members of the group, as it fuels continuous improvement.
After spending more than a decade inside a Peer Advisory Group, I decided it was time to share my stories along with the benefits I gained personally, and as a chief executive in my own companies. Here are twelve powerful benefits from being part of a CEO Peer Advisory Group:
1. Independent Thinking — you get objective observers who come from a cross section of different industries and different experiences that can provide an independent view of your situation. Mismanaging organizations by using the thought, “we’ve always done it this way” causes many organizations to fail. There are always members in these groups who have been through a similar process and the collective wisdom of the group can help guide you and significantly improve your chances for success.
In one organization I was tasked with scaling the company. We needed to grow and diversify our service offerings, or we would certainly be closing our doors. We had two options to scale: grow our funding to buy us more time or sell more services to the same set of customers. When I brought these options to the group, they pulled all the pieces to the puzzle apart and at the end of the day, we identified several other potential solutions that would allow us to keep our doors open and expand our services and our customer base, resulting in a 60% growth rate over the next few years.
2. Learning New Ideas — There is an old adage that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. In the back and forth sharing of experiences, members share both their successes and their failures. Even if you don’t need a particular lesson on a given day, the collective wisdom of the group allows for that information to be shared and used again should that situation arise in your business in the future.
The members bring awareness to certain challenges that can have an impact on all businesses and knowing about them before they happen, allows us to respond with knowledge rather than react with fear when they do occur. We have the power of the group to learn from the mistakes and challenges of others and apply their lessons learned in our own lives.
One of our members told a story about how they found an employee was stealing from their company and the evidence was many layers deep in their records. The details of how the evidence was uncovered was actually through an accident of running the “wrong” report from the accounting system. One could say it was not “wrong” but in some ways, divine intervention that led to a series of interviews that then led to the knowledge of theft of funds. This member shared the experience with the group, which then allowed all the group members to have knowledge of an interesting method to detect fraud in their own businesses.
A few years later, another member reported having used the knowledge gained to uncover a theft in her own company and was able to bring the issue to the group to work through how to handle this difficult conversation with a trusted employee.
3. Sharing Experience — There is a story about a wise woman who is complimented for being a good teacher by her student. She turns and says, it is wise students that create the teacher. What is meant by that is we become the teacher when we share what we have learned by mirroring it back to others. Peer groups engage in dialogue about new ideas and also ask the hard questions to challenge each other collectively so that they can improve their ability to handle complex issues.
4. Applying New Skills — With practice comes improved performance in almost any task. The group holds each other accountable to practice and hone new ways of leading and new ways of working with their organizations in between the meetings.
5. Achieving Results — In order to achieve a different result, one must have a different thought that creates a different perspective. That new perspective creates a different action to be taken which in turn, creates a new result. The individual themselves as well as the other members of the group who bear witness, become inspired by the new action and again, when the desired results are achieved. This becomes a part of the cycle of enriched behavior and knowledge for the whole group.
6. Accountability to Each Other — Accountability is a critical success factor. The members of the group hold each other accountable to achieve their goals and provide support in between meetings by checking in periodically to offer support and see how they are doing on achieving their goals.
On one particularly tough day, I was preparing to have a challenging conversation with a key member of my executive team. This was not going to be an easy discussion and I knew that I had to stay calm and make sure my message could be heard. One of the members of my group called me that morning to see if I was okay and offered to practice the discussion with me. He also requested that I call him back at the end of the day to let him know how everything went. He held me accountable to take the courageous action I needed to take that day.
That extra practice session and the requirement to report back in at the end of the day ensured that I would be successful and keep my plan on track. I knew I had the support of my group and that made the tough conversation easier and more productive.
7. Reflecting What We Might Not Be Able to See in Ourselves — Sometimes in the business of running our businesses, we lose sight of the role we play in situations. In other words, we lose ownership of our own behavior. In CEO Peer Advisory Groups, you receive honest and objective feedback. Sometimes it is referred to as the tough love your employees are afraid to provide. This information can be powerful in that it helps you to see areas where you need to make improvements in both your business and your personal life.
8. Support to Survive the Tough Stuff — I have gone through fertility treatments when I was told I would not be able to get pregnant, while also growing a company. It is always a challenge to keep your personal life and business life separate but knowing that fertility hormones could be mood altering and greatly impact my leadership style, I knew I needed to bring this challenge to my group.
The support I received was priceless. My group helped me create a succession plan and a leadership development plan for my team to identify the next level of leadership. This group also provided an outlet and support to get me through the toughest moments of both my business and personal transitions along the way.
9. Resources to Help — The first six months of 2020 were a nightmare for businesses all across the globe. The majority of businesses were vying for a place in line to apply for PPP loans and other assistance due to the impact of the pandemic. Everyone had questions and very few had sound answers.
Our CEO Peer Groups pulled together across the entire Network to help each other decipher the issues and applications and share resources and connections to experts who could supply real answers. 98% of our peer group members applied for the PPP loans and thanks to our members working together, 93% received their funds. The stronger your network, the more resources and options available to help resolve problems.
10. Listening with Objectivity — In the day to day operations of our businesses, we rely heavily on our internal support teams to identify and solve problems as they arise. We also have a tendency to use them as a sounding board for strategic discussions on new directions. The problem is that many times they have a vested interest in doing it the way we describe or doing it the way it has always been done. Their success is connected to making us right in some ways and can also be skewed by their need to receive their salary or other compensations from us.
This can create an unintended risk averse culture. What we really need is a group of objective thinkers who have no vested interested other than to help us be successful. We don’t want a team that totally agrees with everything we say. We want objective thinkers who can challenge our assumptions in a respectful and professional way and not be afraid to do that.
11. Community of Like-Minded Peers — Through our time together as peers in the group, we become a community that builds each other up to be better leaders, make better decisions, and achieve better results for our companies and our lives. In this way, we help each other transform in extraordinary ways.
12. Clearing the Path and Helping Us See a Way Forward — Through the process of holding each other accountable, holding up a mirror to reflect back to us things we may not see for ourselves, asking tough questions and offering support, the group participates in promoting meaningful and lasting change for all involved.
Cheryl Marks Young is a Vistage Chair, leadership and business coach, national speaker, entrepreneur, author, and board member. She works with successful executives and forward-thinking organizations so they can achieve their fullest potential. Cheryl facilitates exclusive peer advisory group meetings and provides one-to-one coaching and welcomes people who are driven to succeed and are open to new ideas to help their company grow.
Cheryl is also a Mom to two children with over 30 combined severe food allergies and in her spare time, is the founder of The Allergy Ninja which serves as a resource helping families survive and thrive with advocacy, awareness, support, products and recipes. Contact Cheryl directly at email@example.com or 908-345-0382.