The power of peers

We’ve all heard the expression ‘it’s lonely at the top’, and indeed many CEOs often find themselves dealing with a myriad of issues and challenges in isolation. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. One clear way that CEOs and entrepreneurs can help shape the odds in their favour is by joining a peer group. Well put together and managed peer groups can provide a safe haven for CEOs to come together and support each other, helping them to better navigate the sometimes choppy waters of the world of entrepreneurship.

Leo Bottary, co-author of The Power of Peers: How The Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success is an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, as well as a speaker and thought leader on the topic of peer advantage.  It’s what he describes as the difference between the garden-variety peer influence we experience every day and the peer advantage that can be realized by business leaders when they are more selective, strategic and structured about the way they engage their peers.  

“Just think about the last time you were in an environment where you could say whatever is on your mind and in your heart, personal and professional, without being judged, without any fear, and knowing that those hearing you have your best interests at heart. Business leaders can help each other in ways they just won’t find anywhere else,” says Leo.

It’s certainly food for thought. Most of us would have to admit that it’s a rare occurrence, if indeed we’ve ever been fortunate enough to have experienced the power of a true peer group.

“Operating in isolation is most business leaders’ default setting. You may have an advisory board and/or a board of directors, but the quality of the interaction and therefore the resulting output is invariably linked to how open or filtered you are. In these scenarios you might experience peer influence, in that you are moved to take a particular course of action following a peer’s recommendation, but if you’ve been filtered in any way, the power of the influence will be limited and you won’t gain full advantage of the potential power of peers,” adds Leo.

According to Leo and co-author Leon Shapiro, ‘peer advantage’ is where’s it’s at. Peer advantage is a concept that transcends peer influence. Peer advantage allows executives to leverage the collective wisdom of a diverse set of leaders, creating a superior vantage point for opportunities.

Peer advantage is a joint endeavour and in their book Leo and Leon identify five essential factors for any CEO peer advisory group looking to exploit the benefits of peer advantage:

  • Select the right peers – find true peers who share your commitment to excellence.

  • Create a safe environment – cultivate an atmosphere that is judgement-free, inspiring open dialogue and deep learning.

  • Use a ‘smart guide’ – someone who can effectively facilitate the conversation.

  • Foster valuable interaction – establish a process that encourages rich and meaningful conversation.

  • Be accountable – honour a shared expectation that you will do what you say you will do.

“High performing peer groups are made up of business leaders from diverse industries and cultures, ensuring there is no conflict of interest and providing a multicultural perspective on the issues brought to the group,” explains Leo. “Confidentiality is sacrosanct as is accountability. Joining a peer group is a responsibility that provides real rewards.”

And those rewards are real indeed. Leo has witnessed some companies that were failing fast or struggling to grow turn into hugely successful businesses, all thanks to the support of the peer group.

With more than 19,000 members in 16 countries, Vistage delivers the vital perspectives chief executives need to test ideas, overcome obstacles, and seize opportunities. The Vistage model has been developed and refined by high performing business leaders over the last 58 years and 2015 figures show that companies who joined Vistage over the past five years grew at three times the rate of average U.S. companies.

“In addition to real results for the business we also see the CEOs themselves blossom, by becoming better leaders with more effective communication skills, great at getting to the core of an issue by asking the right questions and certainly great at listening. They gain in confidence and humility at the same time, a beautiful combination for a great leader.

“Via the right peer group, leaders can effectively amplify the resource that growth-oriented executives have relied upon for decades to be successful in business and in life: the power of peers,” says Leo.

And finding the right peer group is what the book is all about, so if you’re ready to take yourself and your business to new levels, get your copy of The Power of Peers.

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