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If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
A study conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business found that many CEOs struggle with isolation. It also revealed that while almost two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive outside leadership advice, 100 percent of respondents said they’d be open to making changes based on advice and feedback if they did.
This isolation issue is real and can be detrimental to both the CEO’s effectiveness and the company’s performance.
This is no time to go it alone. Executive isolation is a fever, and the best prescription is an executive peer group. Let’s explore the common mistakes that business owners, CEOs, and senior executives make when selecting a peer advisory group.
Mistake No. 1: selecting the wrong peers
Most CEOs belong to industry and trade associations. Let’s not confuse these important affiliations with peer groups. The highest-performing peer groups are defined by how diverse they are, in terms of industry, section, background, function, education, and life experience.
Certain industries are actually bellwethers for the economy. Others bring an expertise or perspective that’s simply hard to come by in everyday circles. The best peer groups are also very selective. They put a premium on fit, chemistry, and confidentiality, and they share sets of values that really matter – namely, vulnerability, transparency, trust, learning, and growth.
Recommendation: Look for a peer group that’s industry-diverse, follows a selection process, and has a shared set of values (in writing!) that all members sign up for and adhere to.
Mistake No. 2: settling for a comfortable group environment
The strongest CEO peer groups view vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. They are safe harbors where confidentiality is sacrosanct, with high levels of both respect and challenge. A good peer group knows how to make the uncomfortable comfortable and the undiscussable discussable.
Recommendation: Remember that gold doesn’t sharpen iron. When evaluating a peer group, ask for examples of how it could help you with your blind spots and confront your assumptions. If a peer group doesn’t challenge you, then it won’t change you.
Mistake No. 3: assuming that a true peer group must be peer led
Research by Shapiro and Bottary discovered that high-performing peer groups share an interesting attribute: They’re facilitated by a “smart guide” who not only has experience and expertise in business, but also takes personal and passionate ownership for unlocking group and individual potential.
These smart guides are really good at three things: asking the right questions, listening for what’s not being said, and facilitating fierce conversations. They also have a fearless commitment to creating a learning environment that works for busy, high-powered leaders.
Recommendation: Make sure the peer group you’re investigating has a smart guide. Connect with current group members and ask if the guide has visible passion, experience, a servant-leader mindset, and knows how to keep things fun.
Mistake No. 4: downplaying the power of a structured, proven process
Good peer groups know how to have skilled discussions. They follow specific rules of engagement that lead to good decisions. If there’s no process or discipline in place, then a discussion can easily devolve into a free-for-all where the decisions that are reached are influenced by the stronger personalities in the room.
Recommendation: Evaluate the rigor of the peer group’s methodology. You want to see a highly strategic and structured approach as its centerpiece. Confirm that it includes steps for properly framing an issue, asking questions, and leveraging the power of the successful leaders in the room.
It’s great to have a group of business peers who are friends who’ll cheer us on and maybe even pick us up when we stumble. Truly high-performing peer advisory groups also have a strong culture of accountability.
The term “accountability” isn’t always everyone’s favorite word. For some it’s synonymous with stick, somewhere among punishment, micromanagement, and mean-spiritedness. What would make a busy CEO want more “stick” in their lives?
Author Rafael Pastor says there are two types of accountability: imposed and voluntary. Most of us already have plenty of the former. When CEOs regularly get together with no other agenda but to challenge each other to grow and to be more effective — voluntarily — they experience a more empathetic form of accountability that can only come from people who can relate to being a CEO.
Recommendation: Embrace the notion that peer accountability is a support system for winners that helps increase one’s effectiveness in other areas of accountability. Ask about the mechanisms and cadence by which accountability is incorporated into the peer group’s process.
Who you surround yourself with matters. Avoid these five mistakes to find a safe and confidential council of contemporaries that can be your personal laboratory for professional and personal growth. Trusted peer groups are the best solution for the tremendous responsibilities and solitary challenges that men and women at the top face. Well, that and more cowbell.
Kurt Greene is president and owner of Arrow G Consulting, LLC, a Knoxville-based leadership advisory firm that companies and leaders turn to when they want to go from good to great… and stay there. He’s also a Chair for Vistage Worldwide, Inc. Reach him at [email protected]