A personal story of the value of peer advisory

I attended my first peer advisory meeting in September of 2017. As a first-time CEO, I had a lot on my mind, with big decisions and people to consider.

At the time, I led a fledgling company that needed to hit investor milestones, meet client expectations, achieve our mission, and grow. However, the path to achieving these benchmarks wasn’t clear.

As I sat around the table, assessing the others in the room, my first inclination was to compare. How did I stack up with these other CEOs in performance and decision-making? Old fears of not belonging and being out of my league came rushing to mind. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that I joined this group to push past these fears. As much as I appreciated the feedback and direction of my board, investors, and executive team, I also needed an unbiased group of business leaders with fresh eyes and no agenda, other than what was best for me and the company.

Fortunately, the group had an experienced leader who brought everyone together to support and challenge each other. As the peer advisory group began meeting, I found that we, as CEOs, all had issues. Our challenges had different flavors but were all very similar at the core:

  • Scaling our businesses effectively for growth
  • Hiring and developing the right people
  • Staying relevant in a competitive market
  • Taking back personal time

We each cared deeply about our companies and how our decisions impacted our stakeholders, our people, and the trust we’d been given to see the company succeed.

As we built trust in the room, we shared more and broke down the barriers of our behaviors that got in the way of making the right decisions. Our leader kept encouraging us to be vulnerable, and to share the most challenging areas of our lives, demonstrating that this gets us to better places.

Another way to say this: Lay the cards on the table with a trusted group, get to the heart of the matter, and see what magic happens.

Here’s what we experienced; Successful, profitable businesses with solid foundations; succession decisions that led to peace of mind; clarity of vision to engage employees and stakeholders; and personal clarity of life’s dreams to invigorate direction.

These successes didn’t come easy. We had to stretch, challenging each other and confronting our behaviors and limiting beliefs.

For example, during one session, we listed the conversations we had been avoiding—team member performance and partner relationship trust for example. Together, we outlined the reasons why we were avoiding the topics, we shared concerns, and in our group, we role-played these conversations.

Gathering feedback, we practiced again and again until we could commit to having these conversations before our next meeting. We then held each other accountable, sharing the outcomes, the impact and the lessons we learned. It was a powerful experience that taught us not only the value of having difficult conversations but also how to conduct them in a timely and appropriate way.

I now lead a peer advisory group. I am trusted with the awesome responsibility of creating this magic within our group. In a recent meeting, we challenged the assumption of tomorrow, as in “We’ll get to that tomorrow.” If it’s important enough, why not do it today? How do you know it’s important enough? We challenged each other on priorities. Coming back a month later, many shared they had made a decision they had been putting off and described the impact of having felt the urgency of today.

As I think about the value of a peer advisory group, a couple of descriptions come to mind:

  • This group is the best friend who tells you the truth you need to hear. They know you better than anyone, can laugh at themselves, can carry you when times are tough, and celebrate when they are good.This group is the ‘bull**** caller’ when it comes to holding you to do what you say you will do. They might even get fed up with your excuses, but you know it’s because they care deeply about you and your company.

In all, peer advisory group members come together to help each other grow, become better people, improve personal lives and communities—and, of course, build great companies.

If you’ve been on the fence about joining a peer advisory group, reach out to learn more.