10 (11) Ways to Prepare for the Year of the Peer

I am sitting in my family room watching the Ohio State/Michigan game, laptop in lap, posting on the topic of preparing for the Year of the Peer.   A few moments ago, I received a text from a friend I met since moving to California about eight years ago. The message read: Just wanted to say that post Thanksgiving, I have a real sense of gratitude for all the family, friends, and acquaintances in my life. Hope I’ve been good to you, too!

Hard to think of a better way to prepare for the Year of the Peer than thanking the people you care about, sharing how much you appreciate them, and letting them know you hope you’re making a positive difference in their lives as well.   It’s something we don’t do often enough, yet being the recipient of such a message has already made my day and inspired me to complete this blog post (game notwithstanding).

After thanking the people who are making a difference in your life, here are 10 other suggestions:

  1. Commit yourself to the idea that who you surround yourself with matters.  Recognize that so much of who you are and what you achieve in life is a reflection of your peers.
  2. Take stock of the people in your life. Who is lifting you up, holding you at bay, or even dragging you down?  Spend more time with the people who will help you raise your game.
  3. Ask yourself:  Who did I meet this year (whom I didn’t know last year) who has made a positive difference in my life?  Consider how you can advance those relationships to your mutual benefit.  (And if you don’t have anyone new in your life, take note of that for next year).
  4. Ask yourself: Who have I lost touch with over the years?  How and why did that happen?  Not every relationship in our life is meant to last forever.  However, often times we can lose touch with someone without even realizing it.  Before we know it, x years have gone by and we just never realized it.  Don’t let that discourage you from reaching out!   You’ll both be glad you did.
  5. Seek out individuals who will challenge your world view.  Too often, we hang out with people who are similar to us – for some of us, maybe too similar.  In the movie The Sure Thing, Professor Taub tells her students: “Have conversations with people whose clothes are not color coordinated.”  Good advice!
  6. Assume a posture of learning rather than judging.  The more often you can take the default position that you can learn from anyone if you just pay enough attention, the more likely you actually will.  Don’t judge others, or rate their opinions/answers to your questions, learn from them.
  7. Ask more questions of people and listen for understanding.   This is tough to do if you’re inclined to judge all the time, which is why being a learner is so essential.  Too often when people make statements we don’t agree with, we counter with our own diametrically opposed viewpoint.  While you can’t fathom how someone could hold such a view, you’ll never find out either if you leap into an argument.  Be curious instead.  If you do, you may never achieve agreement, but you might come to a mutual understanding and even develop a respect for a different point of view.
  8. Share what you do know with others who will benefit from your experience and wisdom.  Effective peer-to-peer relationships are powered by generosity and reciprocity.  As you learn from others, be sure you are returning the favor.
  9. Avoid the urge to make a New Year’s Resolution.  If anyone asks you, just say you’re not doing that this year.  According to the University of Scranton, while nearly half of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions, 92% of them fail.  People fail largely because their resolution lacks specificity and because they typically don’t ask for help.  Why be one of them?
  10. Set goals for yourself instead.  Once you’ve defined your goals, whether you want to run a company or run a marathon, surround yourself with people who have done it or want to do it.   This is where joining or starting a peer group can be incredibly effective!

Take these 10 thought starters (11 once you’ve thanked your peers for the year), add to them as you see fit, and share any ideas you may have for how you will prepare for the Year of the Peer in the comments section.  In the meantime, don’t forget to subscribe to our Year of the Peer video podcast on YouTube.  The link to iTunes will be available soon.   Enjoy your Saturday!

Image: Thank you.







Join Us for the Year of the Peer


Plan on subscribing to the podcast by all means, yet it’s my hope that you’ll join the movement!  In 40 days, the Year of the Peer begins, and on January 12th, Charlene Li will join us as our first podcast guest.  Who you surround yourself with matters and in today’s world, this has never been more relevant.  Have a look at the following five-minute video describing our podcast, which will be available here and on YouTube (video) and on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play, etc. (audio).

Click here to subscribe and invite your peers to join you for the Year of the Peer.  Enjoy!

Reflecting On The Company You Keep

I was visiting a neighbor recently and there was a man in his mid-to-late 80s, who happened to be at the house as well.  During the course of conversation, he started to quiz me about my book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, which I coauthored with Leon Shapiro.  He asked some incredibly good questions.  I loved his curiosity and offered him a copy, which he graciously accepted.  In return, he jotted down a quote in Italian (see graphic above), which essentially means: “Tell me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

While it’s strikingly similar to the English expression, “You’re known by the company you keep,” I found the translation of the Italian especially powerful.  There’s something more pointed about the idea that the people with whom I surround myself reveals something larger about who I am as a person.  I can only hope so because about a week or so later, I spent an incredible day in San Francisco with two people whom I not only admire and respect, but also really like.

André Eidskrem and Karen Floyd were kind enough to treat me to a taste of Europe with visits to the Royal Norwegian Consul General, Hilde Janne Skorpen and Spain Tech Center Director, Christian Prada.  Again, I marveled at the insightful questions and the immediate grasp of two things:  1) Who we surround yourself with matters; and 2) we don’t pay nearly enough attention to number 1.  Whether you’re a CEO of a Norwegian company, founder of a Spanish tech start-up, or just trying to spread the word about the power of peers and peer advantage.  We’re all far more effective when we surround ourselves with great people – people who will support us when we ask, challenge us when we need it, and provide a perspective that offers a new way of thinking or a new way forward.

As I reflect on the past year, I think about all the amazing people I’ve met who have already made my life richer.   I hope the company I keep, as the Italian expression suggests, is the truest reflection of who I am as a person.  Next time you look in the mirror, rather than look at your reflection, turn around and take stock of the people in your life.  Make this the reflection that matters most and it will change your life for the better.




A Culture of Accountability

I was recently invited to contribute a video for a webinar that was led by Vistage (UK) titled: Accountability – The glue that ties commitment to results.  When it comes to creating a culture of accountability, either for a peer advisory/mastermind group or for a team inside any organization, the five factors outlined in The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success provide a fitting framework.  Here’s the video I submitted, which served as my small contribution to the larger conversation about accountability.  Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts!!

We Are All Americans

Last night’s election results were a big surprise to many – me included.  Political strategist Steve Schmidt said that because trust in institutions (government, media, business, non-governmental organizations), both here in the U.S. and around the world, is at an all-time low, voters were seeking an alternative to the establishment/institutional  candidate.  It was the year of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  No matter how much the media (see list of untrustworthy institutions) told us the election was over, the voters said, “Not so fast.” It appears that when Americans were faced with the choice of staying the course or trying something new, Trump’s argument, “What do you have to lose by voting for me?” resonated with just enough people in enough states for him to win the election.

In what I regard as the most divisive political contest of my lifetime, we’re going to be challenged as never before to bring our country together.   I can only hope that the collaborative tone Trump struck in his acceptance speech rings for the next four years.  As I wrote in an earlier post, Collaboration Trumps Competition, we have our hands full and we will all have to play our part in healing our nation.  My hope is that between now and January 20th, we can begin to see ourselves once again, not in terms defined by partisan politics, but as peers – as Americans – united in doing what’s best for our country and to serve as an example to the world in the years ahead.  I look forward to touching on this subject during our Year of the Peer Podcast Series.  Now that your vote was heard on behalf of your candidate, lend your voice to unite our country.

The Power of Peers Meets Appreciative Inquiry

The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership recently sponsored a Homecoming and Day of Excellence.  The event was inspired by what Detroit started in its own city a few years ago when leaders who once called Detroit home were invited back to meet the leaders living there today to talk about re-investing and re-imagining the community of which they share a common bond.   Over the past two years, the initiative has sparked more than $260 million in pending investments in metro Detroit by the expats.  The people of Erie would love to achieve a similar outcome.

Judging by the enthusiasm of the Erie community and the commitment to success from all who attended, Erie is going to do some great things.  Ninety-three companies stepped up as sponsors.  Speakers hailed from across the country to participate in the Day of Excellence program, and there was a palpable understanding that while an event may get the ball rolling and generate excitement, long-term success will require the tireless work of peers (community leaders and expats alike) for years to come.   I believe I witnessed the start of something big.

I was fortunate enough to be one of about 25 speakers invited to participate in the day’s festivities.  My topic, as you would imagine, focused on the power of peer advantage and creating the kind of peer-to-peer mechanism that will be necessary for making real progress.  How they work together will be the key though.  This is why, as I dropped in to listen to some of the other speakers’ presentations,  I was especially taken by Dr. Laurie McPherson from the University of San Francisco.

Dr. MacPherson weaved tales of her childhood in Erie with an approach to carving out a path for the future through “appreciative inquiry.” Rather than consider Erie’s current economic situation as a problem to be solved, appreciative inquiry challenges us to identify and value the best of what is, envision what might be, and talk about what should be.  Dr. MacPherson nailed it.  If I were going to lead peer groups assigned to tackle various aspects of Erie’s comeback, I’d post Dr. MacPherson’s advice at every meeting.  It will not only keep everyone laser focused on the task at hand, but also inspire a culture that’s hard-wired to leverage the region’s greatest strengths and position it for long-term prosperity.

The people I met were proud of their community and committed to making a positive difference regardless of where they may live today.  It was the power of peers meets appreciative inquiry.   I can’t wait to see what happens!


Jonathan and Cultural Legacy

Meet Jonathan the Husky, the mascot for the University of Connecticut.  He’s an enduring and evolving symbol, named in honor of the last colonel and the first governor of the “Constitution State.”  There’s a costumed version and an actual canine.  I’ll leave it to you to guess which one is standing with me in this photo taken at last night’s game – an exhibition between the 2016-2017 edition of the UCONN women’s basketball team and Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).

My interest in attending the game was to see firsthand how a team that lost its top three players, who also happened to be the top three picks in the WNBA draft, would reassemble itself for this upcoming season.  With the leaders of last year’s team gone, who would step up this year?   While it’s way too early to tell, it may turn out that there’s no natural go-to player, so much as they play as a jazz ensemble that features a different solo performer each and every night.  (A scary thought if you’re tasked with preparing to play them).

You might also argue (as I do) that last year’s stars Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson may have graduated, but they are ever present.  The peer-to-peer culture that these players learned from those who came before them, lives on in the team who stepped on the floor last night.   They played with an energy, excitement and athleticism that showcased their own personality, and yet at the same time, they were strengthened by the cultural legacy that makes Connecticut uniquely Connecticut.  Turns out, UCONN received a pre-season AP ranking of #3 in the country.  Rebuilding year?  Doesn’t look like it.

Last night’s game score was 111-39.  Buckle-up for the 2016-2017 installment of UCONN women’s basketball.  Join Jonathan and me for as many games as you can!

The Power of a Good Question

Expert DOjO’s Head Honcho Brian Mac Mahon invited Ryan Foland and me to speak for a full morning session at the Digital Hollywood Conference in Los Angeles last week.  What an amazing event!  Brian provided the kind of insights that only someone whose lived in 30 countries and has consulted and started companies the world over can provide.   Ryan, a gifted presenter in his own right, delivered a masterclass in communication for entrepreneurs.  I reinforced the value of coming together for conferences and the need for extending that experience through participation in peer advisory/mastermind groups.  During the final 45 minutes, we actually set up a spontaneous mastermind group comprised initially of about 10 volunteers, and soon after we got underway, everyone joined in the experience.

As I reflect on the 2 1/2 hours we spent with this impressive group of entrepreneurs, it’s apparent that the most powerful moments of the entire session were found not in the answers that were given, but in the questions that were raised.  Answers tend to guide us to a conclusion, while questions promote additional learning and further discovery.  The audience asked Brian some very pointed questions – questions which often got to the heart of what was burning inside everyone in the room.

Ryan offered a version of the $64,000 question back to the audience when he asked them to identify the problems their companies are trying to solve.  Not “What do they do?” or “How do they do it?  Ryan asks the bigger question because until you know “precisely” what problem you’re trying to solve, you’re going to have a difficult time communicating the relevance of what you do and surviving as a company.  Ryan’s 3-1-3 pitch coaching model, which helps you get to the heart of that very question, should be part of every entrepreneur’s toolkit.

As for my role, after setting the stage for the value of mastermind groups and why they work so well, we invited people to come up on stage and give it a try – to participate in a real-time experience where one of the members would ask the group for assistance in addressing her most pressing challenge.  This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to asking the right question.   By taking a few moments to assist the member with crafting the question as accurately as we could determine in that moment, it prevents the group (most of the time) from eventually giving the member some great ideas that turn out to have no real utility – which wouldn’t be much help at all.  After helping the member frame the question, it was time for the group members to start asking questions of their own in an effort to gain a greater understanding of the situation.  Here, we established just three rules for asking questions of the member seeking assistance:

  1. Ask open-ended questions (ones that cannot be answered yes or no).
  2. Do not ask “why” questions (in trying to create a safe environment for sharing, “why” questions can tend to put a group member needlessly on the defensive).
  3. Do not frame a question as a question-mendation (meaning ask questions that improve your understanding what’s going on, not “Have you considered trying x, y, z?”).

Everyone jumped right in and followed my three rules to the letter.  Best of all, the richness of the exchange, along with the ideas that came from the participants after the initial question session was completed, demonstrated to everyone that even in 45 minutes, among a group of people many of whom only met that morning, they could deliver and receive real value.

I’d like to think that on the way out of the room, the audience members were asking themselves this question:  How is it that I’m not in a mastermind group of my own?  Let’s hope so.


Don't Stay in Airplane Mode

Perry Maughmer, a Vistage Chair in the Columbus, Ohio area recently shared that he was reading The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have On You From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond – and What to Do About It, by Dr. Henry Cloud.  When smart people tell me they’re reading a really insightful book, I’ve learned over the years that it’s a good idea to buy it right way and start reading it while it’s fresh on my mind.  I’m really glad I did.

Two points that struck me early in Dr. Cloud’s book are 1) “…the neglected truth is that the invisible attributes of relationship and the connection between people have real and tangible power” and that “it begins at birth.”  I often speak to audiences about how early it starts, but only as it relates to childhood memories of wanting to “belong.” It’s my way of helping people reflect on how peer influence has been part of all of our lives for as long as we can remember.  Dr. Cloud speaks to it as a biological and physiological imperative.  This explains a great deal about why our need for human connection is so visceral.

2) Our smart phones serve as a fitting metaphor for maximizing human potential. When your phone is in airplane mode, for example, it has limited functionality.  Connect it to a cellular or wi-fi network, and it transforms into a device with exponential potential.  We are capable of a great deal as individuals, yet we can realize so much more when connected to a network – a network of people who will cheer us on, share their perspectives and wisdom, and hold us accountable for achieving our own self-expressed goals.

In today’s fast-paced, complex world, there’s no need to go it alone.  No need to fight biology and stay in airplane mode.  Challenge yourself to engage in meaningful exchanges with others and take your life (personally and professionally) to new heights.

Image: Chinavasion

All New For 2017

In preparation for the new year, I’m working with Randy Cantrell out of Dallas/Ft.Worth, Texas to create a professionally produced podcast series titled The Year of the Peer, with Leo Bottary.  The series will begin on Thursday, January 12th and post on the second and fourth Thursday of every month.

My guests will be top leaders, authors, journalists and scholars from all walks of life.  We’ll talk about a universally accepted truth with myriad dimensions – who you surround yourself with matters.  This is especially noteworthy in a world where trust in our institutions is low, and where the complexity and blistering pace of change are affecting everyone.  Leaders today are challenged more than ever to prepare for a future most of us can barely imagine.

There’s simply never been a time where understanding and experiencing true peer advantage has ever been more essential.  We’ll have conversations about leadership, accountability, vulnerability, and collaboration, among other things, that you just won’t get anywhere else.  If you’re a leader at any level, or you want to be one someday, this show is for you!

In the next few weeks, I’ll release the names of our guests for the first quarter of the year – some of whom played a critical role in the development of The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success  – as well as other voices who will join us for what promises to be an even larger conversation.  You won’t want to miss it, so keep checking back for details about how you can subscribe.