What do all CEOs, from the largest Fortune 100 company to the smallest new start-up, have in common? There is an old saying that “it takes a community to raise a child.” I believe the same is true of a business.
At the 2013 Inc. Magazine Women Entrepreneur Summit this past September, many CEOs took to the stage to share their stories. Each CEO had a different background; there were men and women, large and small business owners, and each of them shared their uphill battles, their plateaus and their setbacks. They told their stories with passion, sorrow and enthusiasm all in the same presentation, stories that many of them had never shared with co-workers, friends or family. But the one thing that they all had in common was that they each depended on a peer group, an advisory board, or a board of directors.
Joy Chen, CEO of Yes To (an all-natural beauty brand) took the stage and told her story about how she went from being an account manager selling Clorox, to taking her present position. Chen was named Most Admired CEO in 2012 and given the Most Influential Women Award in 2013 by the San Francisco Business Times. She talked about the difficult decisions she had to make in order to get the Yes To brand from operating in the red to being a globally recognized product. She recounted her sleepless nights and endless phone calls to mentors and ex-coworkers, stating that they were helpful, but that no one really understood what she was going through. Looking for a solution, Chen joined a peer group of other CEOs who were having similar experiences to her. According to Chen, her peer group is what pulled her through, and helped her to have some eye-opening moments during their discussions.
A peer group is an excellent vehicle to get like-minded people together to exchange ideas, grow relationships and learn to work as a team. Of course, not all groups are the same, and not every group is right for everyone. What makes a group work is the right combination of people who all have the same goals. This does not necessarily mean that a successful peer group must consist only of professionals from companies of the same size or revenue stream; it is more important that these individuals are visionaries with open minds and a desire to both teach and learn.
Furthermore, a successful peer group must be a no-judgment zone, with a level of trust built amongst those in the group so that they feel free to have open discussions. Although these are some key components that should be included in every group, each group will take on a life and personality of its own.
Peer group members should have open minds to explore topics that are directly or indirectly relevant to their businesses. Stepping outside the box and keeping ahead of the curve is the key to success for any business. Once an owner becomes stale, the rest of the company is sure to follow.
As members set goals with each other during their meetings, they should consider their group mates as accountability partners. These goals are not necessarily financial goals, but any goal that will directly affect the success of the business. It could even be a personal goal of the business owner to spend more time at the gym, enhancing her health so she can think more clearly at work.
I look at team building in two ways: First, it is a way for the group members to have a little fun while learning to work together, even with a little competition. Activities, games and even physically challenging excursions will encourage trust levels amongst the group as they work/play together for a common goal. Second, it is a way to take people outside of their comfort zones. Getting peer group members to face their fears and just go for the gusto is amazing to watch. After all, one of the biggest attributes of every successful entrepreneur is being a risk taker, but all too often the fear just rises to the surface and we lose that special quality that got us started in the first place. Putting peer group members in a position to take a perceived risk should bring those hidden attributes to the surface and remind them that fear is the killer of dreams.
Open dialogue “round table discussions” are very beneficial to every group. This gives them an opportunity to discuss challenges, both in their professional and personal lives, and get feedback from their fellow group members. It is not uncommon for these discussions to bring an “Aha!” moment to a member, along with a long awaited solution to a problem.
As peers must work together as a team, there should be a mutual respect for each other. As leaders and role models for our employees and staff members, it is important that we remember to be respectful. This helps to build the “no-judgment zone” I mentioned before, but additionally, respect is a leadership skill that we want to exhibit for our employees. After all, how can we encourage these behaviors if we don’t exhibit them ourselves?
Providing a healthy team environment is the key to success for peer groups. Leaving egos at the door and creating an intimate environment can result in a “reawakening” few days with your peers, a time to invest in yourself and others, and a place where you can let your hair down, share your successes and your failures, and trust that you may find the answers that you have been looking for and the comfort that you are not alone.
Some of what we have lost in our world is the concept that “no man is an island.” Putting ourselves in a group environment that encourages and teaches us can reveal just why being part of a community is essential to being successful in business.
Lenore D'Anzieri facilitates educational and motivational meetings for small and large audiences through Driving Results, and she has a proven track record of helping companies, leaders, and sales organizations achieve their goals by identifying opportunities to increase profit margins and revenues. Before serving as executive vice president of Luxury Worldwide and overseeing a rebranding effort, she worked as a corporate travel executive for 23 years. She also served as a business analyst and a travel manager for a Fortune 500 company.