Lead As Part of the Group, Not Apart From It!

This is Part III of a (somewhat accidental) series involving why peer groups work, how they work (the conditions necessary for their success), and at least one perspective about how they could be led – that would be this post!

In Part I, I offered an illustration of a reinforcing loop involving a process of learning, sharing, applying and achieving to show why peer groups work so well, not only when it comes to embedding what we learn, but also with giving us the courage to implement new strategies and actually benefit from them.  Part II simply suggested that this process doesn’t happen unless you have the right people in the room, a safe/confidential environment, a process for interacting that brings value, a culture of peer-to-peer accountability, and good servant leadership.

In the book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, we don’t take a position on whether a group should be led by a professional facilitator, a member on a rotating basis, or anything that may fall in between.  What we do suggest is that no matter who is in charge, the responsibilities are the same: to be sure the conditions or factors outlined in Part II are present, and that the group leader should maximize all the assets in the room to drive the reinforcing loop we described.  The high performing groups we studied have this in common.

If you think of it visually, we didn’t see an all powerful leader who stands apart from the group, engaging in dyads with the members, each looking to the leader for guidance and support.  Instead, we pictured a more participatory environment with the leader as a part of the group, using a triad model we picked up from a terrific book called Tribal Leadership and through conversations with one of its coauthors, Dave Logan.

With each entity accepting their role as “having the back” of the relationship and being accountable to one another, it allows everyone to extract the most value possible from the experience and ultimately serve everyone’s purpose for being there.

This “series” may have been a happy accident, but I hope it was an informative one.  Please share your thoughts and experiences on any aspect of this in the comments section. Thank you!


Lewis Schiff: Year of the Peer Podcast – Good Givers Are Great Getters

Lewis Schiff is the author of Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons From the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons, the executive director of The Business Owners Council, and co-founder (with Norm Brodsky) of BEN Global Mentorship  – an organization that helps business owners transform their companies into scalable enterprises and, eventually, enduring institutions with help from rock star entrepreneurs from around the world.

Next week’s guest will be JJ Ramberg, Business Owner and Host of MSNBC’s Your Business!

Time To Start Listening

Whether you attended the inauguration on Friday or the women’s marches on Saturday, millions of people in Washington, DC, and in cities across the world, understood that their voices are louder and have more impact when they ring together.

Now it’s time to start listening. It just may be tougher than it sounds.

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, people are “four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they don’t believe in.” Meaning, if you watch MSNBC, you don’t watch Fox News, and if you’re a Republican and you have a friend who’s a Democrat (unlikely as that may be today), you can’t even talk politics without it devolving into a screaming match.

I declared 2017 as the Year of the Peer prior to election day because, regardless of the outcome of the presidential contest/reality TV show, we were destined to be a more divided nation. It was also apparent that trust in our institutions was clearly suffering. Here’s how I described the situation in October, 2016:

“Regardless of whether you’re a Trump or Clinton supporter, the tenor of the campaign itself has sunk to new depths. Yet when it’s all over, we’ll be reading about the importance of healing and uniting the country. Ironically, the same media that fueled the fire and aggravated the wounds will start handing out medical supplies.

“The problem is this: The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal — the more likely it will leave a scar. The lower we go, the tougher it is to climb out of the hole. The harder is it to trust one another again. The tougher it is to make the transition from fighting against each other to fighting for one another. Regardless of who prevails in the election, we may be headed for one of the toughest recovery periods since the Civil War.”

As for the decline in institutional trust, it’s now been documented. As we look again to the Edelman Trust Barometer, institutional trust — including government, media, business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — has plummeted.

Let’s look at government and media specifically. If you want to put government gridlock in historical perspective, consider that in 1948, Harry Truman campaigned against what he called the “Do Nothing (80th) Congress,” which passed 906 pieces of public legislation. The 112th, 113th and 114th Congress combined (our last three) passed 908 public laws. It’s no wonder the 2016 electorate looked outside the establishment to Trump and Sanders.”

Our political leaders, however, are not entirely to blame here. The media have turned politics into a blood sport. Attempts at collaboration and compromise breed serious casualties. It’s all about winners and losers, as someone is always vilified as having “sold out” or having “caved to the other side.” Conflict spikes ratings and readership, but it creates an impossible climate for our elected officials — it’s the kind of climate change we don’t talk about often enough.

I’m not knocking conflict. It can be a healthy byproduct of open, honest dialogue. I just think it may be time to get back to boxing and leave the bare-knuckle fights back in the steel cage. As long as everything remains a zero-sum game and those who collaborate to reach sensible compromise continue to be marginalized by the media (and the public), trust in institutions will continue to suffer.

The flash of good news from Edelman is that we trust one another (people like me) as much as we do academic and technical experts. Sounds to me a like a good place to start.

The Year of the Peer is directed at leaders who are challenged with preparing themselves and their many stakeholders for a future most of us can barely imagine. As citizens, I hope we channel all the energy and good intentions we saw over the past few days and aim it toward moving our society forward by listening for understanding, seeing the very best in each other, and finding areas of agreement to establish a foundation for doing good.

Together, we can accomplish anything. We just have to start listening.

*Image: Dreamstime.com

How Peer Groups For Business Leaders Work

Last week, I offered a framework, or a reinforcing loop if you will, that illustrated why peer groups for business leaders are so effective.  This week, I’d like to share the five factors, or five conditions, that are necessary for a group to drive that reinforcing loop.  Turns out, you can’t just throw a bunch of people in a room, cross your fingers, and trust that group members will spontaneously engage in the process of learning, sharing, applying and achieving.  Because of this, we need to look at the five essential conditions that create the ideal environment for success.  They involve:

  1. Select the right peers/have all the right people in the room.  Whether you want to lead a company or run a marathon, it’s essential that you involve people who want to do that (or have done that), and who are committed to helping each other achieve their individual goals within a particular domain, whether it’s business, running, etc.
  2. Create a safe/confidential environment.  Business leaders need to trust that they are in a safe place.  This involves working with peers who treat each other respectfully and their being assured that what happens in the room stays in the room.  It’s a place for learning rather than judging, and where confidentiality is sacrosanct.   In this environment, group members can let their guards down and have real conversations.  How many opportunities do you have to do that?
  3. Foster valuable interaction.  While creating emotional safety is necessary, it’s not enough.  Intellectually, group members must believe they are engaging in a structured process that helps them solves problems and evaluate opportunities alike.  They tend to get to the heart of the matter, instead of wasting time dealing with symptoms and other extraneous issues, and they do so in a way that produces actionable outcomes.
  4. Be accountable.  This involves creating a culture of accountability, where group members hold one another accountable for doing what they say they will do (DWTSTWD) to achieve their goals.  This accountability doesn’t come from a place of calling people out; it comes from a place of members believing in each other and truly caring about their respective success.
  5. Utilize a smart guide.  Leadership, servant leadership specifically, drives higher group performance.  Whether the group leader is a professional facilitator or a member leading the group on a rotating basis, the responsibilities are essentially the same.  Smart guides need to be stewards of conditions 1-4, and like any great coach, maximize the assets in the room and help the group realize its full potential.

The conditions for group success described here are covered in detail in The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success – Part II, The Five Factors for Peer Advantage.  Turns out, each of these five conditions are evident (in a slightly different form) in high-performing organizational teams as well.  As a CEO or business owner, one of the many ROIs you get when you join a group is that you can take what you learn from working with your peers and bring that peer-to-peer experience back into your organization.  It’s what Kouzes and Posner call, “modeling the way!”  The Year of the Peer is the perfect time to find a group that’s right for you and give it a try.

Next week, I’ll look at the role of the smart guide in greater detail and share what we learned about leading high performing peer groups and great teams.

Rich Karlgaard: Year Of The Peer Podcast – 4 Megatrends

Rich Karlgaard is the publisher and global futurist for Forbes magazine.  He writes the biweekly column, Innovation Rules, and serves as a regular panelist on cable news’ most popular business show, Forbes on FOX. He’s an award-winning entrepreneur-turned-publisher, popular keynote speaker, and author of two best-selling books The Soft Edge and Team Genius.  Rich has a unique vantage point on the power of peer-to-peer relationships and the trends driving business and the economy.  He joins us here to share his experiences and four major megatrends that we should all be paying attention to.

Next week’s guest will be Lewis Schiff, Founder and Executive Director, The Business Owners Council!

MLK Day and the “Global Implosion of Trust”

Like many of you this morning, I woke up reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and what his leadership meant to the civil rights movement and our understanding of the efficacy of non-violent protest.   As we celebrate the man, the movement, and the progress we’ve made as a society, we can’t forget how much work there is still left to be done.

To that end, I just read the sobering results of the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer.  According to the Harvard Business Review Daily Alert, “For 17 years the Edelman Trust Barometer has surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in business, media, government, and NGOs. This year was the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four of these institutions. In almost two-thirds of the 28 countries we surveyed, the general population did not trust the four institutions to ‘do what is right’ — the average level of trust in all four institutions combined was below 50%.”

We cited the 2015 results of the Edelman Trust Barometer in our book, The Power of Peers, How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success.   I’ve always regarded it as an important study, and if you follow the evolution of trust as measured by Edelman since 2001, it paints a clear picture of how we got here and why the Year of the Peer movement is so important.

Among 10 insights from the study, I point you to #7 (Peers Highly Credible)  “For the first time, ‘a person like yourself’ is as credible a source for information about a company as a technical or academic expert (all three at 60%).”  And to #10 (With the People)  “The trust crisis demands a new operating model for organizations by which they listen to all stakeholders; provide context on the issues that challenge their lives; engage in dialogue with them; and tap peers, especially employees, to lead communications and advocacy efforts.”

One of the most disturbing facts, which we’ve touched on in this blog, is that too many people have stopped listening.  In #6 (Media Echo Chamber), we learn that “People are nearly four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they don’t believe in; don’t regularly listen to those with whom they often disagree (53%); and are more likely to believe search engines (59%) over human editors (41%).

In my recent podcast with Charlene Li,  she said that it will take leaders to move from what she described as the “bully pulpit” on social media back to our having true dialogue and conversations again.   So with Dr. King’s powerful example in mind, let’s use the 2017 results as a peer-to-peer call to action to restore trust both here in the U.S. and around the world by having the courage to trust first – to listen more than talk, to learn rather than judge, and to allow the “content of our character” to shine more brightly.

Why Peer Groups for Business Leaders Work

One of my all-time favorite poems is all ignorance toboggans into know by e.e. cummings.  In it, he warns us of the dangers of doing what I’m about to do now – offer a simple, singular answer to a complex question.  He would most definitely accuse me of striving to achieve ignorance today, with the understanding that I will slide back into knowledge tomorrow (or the day after).  To that I’ll plead guilty, and since today is today, and because we all like to boil things down to concepts that are easy for us to grasp, let me take you down the mountain.

In my view, the reinforcing loop depicted above is a big reason that peer groups for business leaders work so well.  I’ll start with this comparison: think about any book club worth its salt.  Each member reads the book and brings his/her unique perspective on the content to the group.  After an hour or two, there isn’t one member who doesn’t understand the narrative and its context more deeply and more broadly than before the conversation began.  By examining the book through everyone’s mental models, we become exposed to ideas and perspectives we would never have considered on our own.

We learn best when we learn together.  Business leaders who share concepts and ideas with one another also help generate deeper understanding.   Better yet, they give each other the courage to act – to actually apply what they learn.  It’s one thing to become enamored with an idea, it’s quite another to implement it.   Once they try it, and as they work to perfect the new initiative, they begin to achieve the positive results they imagined.  The group celebrates member wins together, which only inspires everyone to learn more and continue the cycle.

I’m sure there are a number of you who will help me climb back up the slope to knowledge again by sharing your perspective on what you believe to be the secret to the success of peer groups for business leaders.  Since it’s likely there is no one dynamic that deserves 100% of the credit, I hope you will.   Where I believe we can agree is that business leaders can help each other in ways they won’t find anywhere else.

Now that I’ve offered my thoughts on why these groups work so well, next week, I’ll take another trip down the mountain and share the how – the 5 conditions necessary for making this reinforcing loop come to life.

Charlene Li: Year Of The Peer Podcast – Engaging Our Peers and Why It Matters

Joining me as my first guest on the weekly podcast The Year of the Peer with Leo Bottary is Charlene Li.

Charlene is the Founder and CEO of Altimeter Group and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership. She is also the coauthor of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell, which was named one of the best business books in 2008. Her latest book “The Engaged Leader” was published in March 2015.

Charlene shares her peer-to-peer experiences at Harvard Business School, Forrester, YPO, and most recently at Prophet.  She also offers her perspective about the evolution of how we engage one another in the digital world and talks about why it’s so important for today’s leaders.  Watch our interview here or listen to this podcast on iTunes, GooglePlay or any of your favorite podcast platforms.

Next week’s guest will be Rich Karlgaard, Publisher and Global Futurist for Forbes!

Beware of Geeks Bearing Tips

I first wrote about “tips posts” in 2011, but I thought that as we start the Year of the Peer, it’s a topic worth revisiting.  The title, of course, is a play on the line, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts” which comes from the story of Troy and how the Greeks used a wooden horse to trick their way into the city.  Sophocles described it as, “foes’ gifts are no gifts; profit they bring none.”

For me, “tips posts” are no different.  They should come with a warning label.  While I don’t believe everyone who writes an article or blog post that offers 5 tips for this or 10 ways to accomplish something else is necessarily a geek or one’s enemy, I would suggest, however, that we consume such articles with caution.  They typically address symptoms rather than underlying causes.  And because they rarely provide the necessary background or root principles that lay beneath them, we’re left with one-liners that, while entertaining, will never by themselves help us transform our behavior in any meaningful way.  For that, we have to go deeper.

Can they be helpful from time to time?  Sure.  Do I read these articles just like everyone else?  Absolutely.  Heck, I’ve written a few, although I try to avoid it.  Let’s face it, any post or article that promises a simple, numerically organized way to address a timely, complex issue can be hard to resist.   That’s why writers write them and readers read them.  It’s link candy.  I’m just suggesting that a steady diet of these posts without something more can be bad for you.

So what are we to do?  Two things:  1) Next time, you read a really good “tips” article, engage the writer in the comments section and ask for a deeper dive.  Most of the people who write these posts really know what they’re talking about and are more than happy to share what they know.   The better you understand the advice, the more likely you will be to adopt it.  2) Read more posts that take you on a more meaningful journey.  Click on headlines that don’t give away what the piece is all about.  Explore more often and you’ll discover more frequently.   Your peers have a lot to offer you!

By balancing our “tips” fascination with a deeper dive into underlying causes and the mindset that drives our basic assumptions, we stand a good chance of converting short-term tips to life-long best practices.

How about this for a post?
Five Ways To Convert Short-term Tips To Life-long Best Practices!


Start the Year of the Peer With a Promise & 3 Words

Happy New Year and welcome to the Year of the Peer!  This is the year , starting today, when we’re going to challenge ourselves to listen more than we talk, read more than we write, learn rather than judge, and operate from a spirit of generosity and sharing that will enrich our own lives as well as the lives of those closest to us.  Let’s make it a year where dialogue trumps debate, where compromise is not regarded as a four-letter word, and where we think abundance rather than scarcity.  The world only operates as a zero-sum game if we allow it.  Let’s not.

It’s a year for meeting new people, distancing ourselves from the individuals in our lives who drag us down, re-kindling old relationships that have atrophied over time, and advancing our engagement with peers who support us and can help us be our very best selves.

Forget about new year’s resolutions.  What are your goals for 2017?   What promises are you prepared to make to yourself during the coming year?  And more importantly, who are the people in your life who will help you keep those promises?   The promise I’m making to myself is to complete by dissertation during 2017.  Anyone who is willing to share their wisdom, encouragement, and experience in this area will be greeted with open arms!  (Thank you in advance!)

If you’re looking for another device to help you get started, Chris Brogan has been advocating identifying 3 words to live by for a given year, since 2006.  I’m going to borrow my three words from the book we released earlier this year titled The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success.  (A handy Year of the Peer manual by the way if you haven’t read it).   My three words are network, optimize, and accelerate. In a nutshell, it means I’m going to be more selective and purposeful about the people who surround me in my life; I will pursue perfection in the pursuit of excellence more often, and I will seek out relationships with more people who have completely different backgrounds from my own in an effort to expand my world view.

What promise(s) are you prepared to make to yourself in 2017?  What three words will guide you?  How will you contribute to making the Year of the Peer the best year ever?   Share your thoughts and insights on your favorite social media platforms using the hashtag #yearofthepeer.  Let the games begin!

*Don’t forget to join me and my producer Randy Cantrell, starting January 12th for the first of 50 weekly podcasts dedicated to the Year of the Peer!   My first guest will be Altimeter Group CEO and best-selling author Charlene Li.

Image: loyaltytruth.com