How's This For Optimizing?

In The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership Growth & Success, we outline four ways we typically engage others.  We connect, network, optimize and accelerate.  We defined optimize in terms of what happens when peers work together toward a common goal – when they chase perfection in the pursuit of excellence.  During my recent trip to Washington, DC and the National Gallery of Art, I never thought I’d discover one of the most remarkable examples of optimizing I could have ever imagined.

The sculpture pictured above is commonly referred to as “The Veiled Nun.”  Until I got close enough to realize otherwise, it looks as if an actual veil is draped over the marble statute.  It’s absolutely breathtaking.  I immediately looked for the plaque that I assumed would identify who sculpted this masterpiece and it read, “Italian.”  How could this be?  How could no one know who crafted this masterful work?  So I thought I’d look into it when I returned home.  Turns out, the story behind “The Veiled Nun” is every bit as amazing as the piece itself.

Purchased in March 1863 in Rome by William Wilson Corcoran [1798-1888], it was gifted to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1873, and later acquired by the National Gallery of Art (2014).  Until recently, it was assumed that it was the work of Giuseppe Croff.  Experts have since concurred that it was actually created in a commercial workshop in Rome, making it unlikely we will ever know the name of the carver(s).  Here’s where it gets interesting, as Lisa Strong, then Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, tells the story:

It is a little known fact that sculpture in this period was produced by a designer (the artist who signs the piece) and a craftsman who actually carved the piece in marble. The artist would have designed the sculpture in plaster or wax and then submitted that model to the workshop for production. Studio labor was specialized, so there would have been one craftsman to select and rough out the block of marble and to confirm there were no flaws in the stone. Next, another craftsman used a mechanism called a pointing device to drill into the block and match the contours of the plaster model. Yet another craftsman carved the face, followed by specialists in hair, eyes, etc. and a final artisan who polished the surface. This commercial production system was the same whether a workshop was producing a signed piece of sculpture under an artist’s supervision or a copy of an antique or eighteenth century design.

Strong goes on to say:

Once Corcoran returned to Washington, D.C. and put The Veiled Nun on display in his home, it received only an occasional mention from visitors. Likewise, its exhibition in the first Corcoran building (now the Renwick) in a niche of the rotunda, elicited little comment. This is perhaps because The Veiled Nun would have been a fairly familiar subject for Victorian audiences who were accustomed to virtuoso sculptural techniques. It was only in the early twentieth century, long after the taste for realistic sculpture had changed and the market for veiled busts had evaporated that the public began to take note. By 1969, when Readers Digest approached the Corcoran with a request for its audience’s favorite piece, The Veiled Nun was an easy answer. It was firmly entrenched as the one of Washington’s most beloved artworks and it remains among its most popular today.

As it should.  I’ll never forget the first moment I saw it or the story of how it was crafted.  It has raised the bar for me forever when it comes to what a group of peers, committed to a common goal, is capable of achieving.  The people who created “The Veiled Nun” didn’t just chase perfection, they caught it.  I share this story with you, so you can share it with your team.  Enjoy!  (Be sure to see it for yourself during your next visit to our nation’s capital).

Image: GW Corcoran School of the Arts

Peer Advantage at Expert DOJO

I started my day yesterday with a visit to Expert DOJO in Santa Monica, CA where I met with Brian Mac Mahon and Dustin Dye.   Brian is the head honcho and Dustin is the membership guru – yes, their real titles ;-).  Expert DOJO is what the website describes as  a “one-stop success factory” for entrepreneurs and leaders of early-stage companies.  It was actually my second visit to the dojo, which I found to be appropriately named, largely because of the palpable energy you feel as soon as you enter.  Very impressive.

The word dojo comes from the Japanese term “place of the way.”  It’s described in Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s book Holding the Center – Sanctuary in a Time of Confusion as: “A dojo is a space of commitment in which people practice together. What is powerful about the dojo is what it tells us of learning, and ultimately, of waking up, of being alive.”

The words commitment, learning, being alive, and discipline (my word) describe for me what makes Expert DOJO so effective and why so many people are so passionate about giving of themselves to benefit others in this environment.  Have a listen to Brian’s TEDx talk and you’ll understand why I know this to be true – why life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game and, most especially, why who you surround yourself with matters both in business and in life.

Check out Expert DOJO’s website, and better yet, if you want to experience a brand of peer advantage you can only get in a dojo, come to their event on the morning of October 21st and discover your “place of the way.”  I look forward to seeing you!


Big Papi, Pedro, the Power of Peers & the Postseason!

I think a lot of Red Sox fans would agree that without the heroics of David Ortiz (Big Papi), the story going into this year’s postseason might have focused on the prospect of a match-up between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs and which team might finally break their respective curse.  What fewer people may realize (outside of New England) is that if not for some heavy lobbying by Pedro Martinez after Ortiz was released by the Minnesota Twins at the end of the 2002 season, Ortiz not only wouldn’t have joined the Red Sox, but may have found it difficult to get a job with any team in major league baseball at that time.

In a piece by ESPN last month, Ortiz and his agent described the situation this way:

ORTIZ: So now you see all these guys signing, and I’ve got nothing. I didn’t think I wasn’t going to play, but I was preparing to just go to winter ball and hope something came up. So I went to winter ball and had a good winter, but I didn’t have anything.

FERNANDO CUZA, AGENT TO DAVID ORTIZ: David was calling me five times a day. He was nervous as s—. I’ll never forget being in that coffee shop with him at the Sheraton in Santo Domingo [capital of the Dominican Republic]. That face.

Every day that went by, you could see it. He was saying, “I’m young. I have no other skills but to play baseball, but nobody wants me. What am I going to do? How am I going to provide for my family?” I told him if you get the chance, you’re gonna be a son of a bitch. You’re gonna tear it up. I didn’t think his career was over, because he was a great hitter.

DESPITE HIS AGENT’S words, Ortiz was in a full panic by January. Spring training was six weeks away, and he had no job. There were no offers, no workouts, no invites. The Red Sox now had Jeremy Giambi, Zuleta and Hillenbrand on the roster. Then came an intervention from an unlikely source — perhaps the greatest Sox pitcher of all time.

A Boston Globe article last week provided then Red Sox President Larry Lucchino’s account of the call from Pedro:

“[Martinez] called me after the Twins cut David and said, ‘I’m not calling about my contract. I just want to call you directly and make a suggestion.’ I said, ‘Yeah, go.’ He said, ‘David Ortiz is out there. He just got released. It baffles me as to why he was released. But he’s really a good guy, No. 1, and he can really hit, No. 2, so it would mean a lot if you can give him a chance to make the Red Sox.’

“It was that call that set in motion the events that led us to signing David Ortiz.”

When the Twins cut Ortiz, his agent, Fern Cuza, sent faxes to every team informing them of Ortiz’s availability. No team showed meaningful initial interest. Ortiz believes Martinez changed that.

When the Red Sox organization and its fans paid tribute to Big Papi on the final day of the regular season at Fenway Park, Ortiz publicly thanked Pedro Martinez for being the guy he credits for making it all possible.  If the power of peers could rid Boston of the Curse of the Bambino, then imagine how it could impact your life.

As we prepare for the Year of the Peer, here are two things you can do today that will have an immediate impact on your life and the life of someone else:  1) Think of a peer that helped you at some point in your life.  Call, email, text, create a video or pen a handwritten note and thank them!  You’ll make their day and you’ll feel pretty good, too! 2) Think of a peer who could either benefit from your encouragement or expertise (or both) and let them know that whatever it is they are trying to achieve in life, that you are in their corner.  Show them you believe in them and if you think you can help by making a “Pedro-call,” don’t ask, just do it.

Simple acts.  Big impact.  The power of peers.  Go Red Sox!


Collaboration Trumps Competition

When I thought about a headline before writing this post, the first thing that popped into my head was what you see here, “Collaboration Trumps Competition.”  I didn’t connect it to the presidential election at first and yet it’s fitting. So here we go.  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.

At present, we’re a nation suffering from boiling frog syndrome.  Consider this, in 1948 Harry Truman campaigned against what was dubbed the “Do Nothing Congress” – a body that eventually passed 906 bills.  Compare that to the 112th Congress (283), the 113th (296), and the current collection of legislators (228), with just a few months to go before the clock runs out.  Acrimony has bred distrust and revealed the worst of partisan politics.  Now, it’s become acceptable to get elected to Congress and come back virtually empty handed every two years as long as you hold true to your hard and fast positions.  It happened without most of us realizing how dangerously hot the water has become.

Something has got to change – fast!  2017 should be the start of asking our legislators (and leaders at all levels from every branch of government) to work and play well with others, so we can move our country forward instead of staying mired in the kind of gridlock that holds a country hostage.  To be fair, however, we all have a role to play in making this possible.  As I pointed out in my last post about the Connections exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, everything is connected.  We not only have to ask more of our political leaders, we have to ask for better behavior by media and business leaders as well.  That starts with us.

If the media cared more about their viewers than beating their competitors, then maybe (just maybe), they would stop covering wackos setting their hair on fire and start celebrating meaningful collaboration and compromise.   Today, collaboration breeds political casualties  – winners and losers, leaders who “caved to the other side.” As long as everything remains a zero-sum game and those who put the country first continue to be vilified by the press, we’ll all be the biggest loser.  Compromise is not a four-letter word. We have the power to send a message to our media and change the climate so that our elected officials can get back to the business of governing.

Speaking of business, effective collaboration requires trust, and business leaders could set a better example.  The recent Wells Fargo scandal is just one among the latest breaches of the public trust in industries ranging from finance to pharmaceutical to automotive, etc.   Companies who respect their customers and hold true to their values (all the time) are companies worth supporting.

I wrote a piece recently specific to business leaders at Shaping the Odds titled Five Reasons 2017 Will Be the Year of the Peer.  Reason #6 is we have no choice. As trust among institutions of all kinds remains low, we’ll have to rely on one another more than ever if we’re going to turn the tide.  Alone, fighting the current seems impossible.  Together, however, we are powerful beyond measure.  Collaboration trumps competition any day of the week.   Since we’re all in the same boat, it’s time to start rowing together and prepare for the Year of the Peer!

*Image from



Peer Advantage and Connections

Yesterday, I spoke to an audience of CEOs and business leaders at the Vistage Executive Summit in Washington, DC.  I was doubly excited about having been invited because I not only knew it would be a great event, but I’d also get to visit my youngest daughter who lives in DC.  I arrived a day early where we met for a lovely lunch, enjoyed a trip to the  Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, and took in a Nationals game.  For the purpose of this post, I’d like to focus on the Renwick Gallery.

The featured exhibit is called Connections, and I was struck by the first paragraph of its description painted on a wall:

“The Internet has fundamentally transformed the way we think over the last quarter century.  We now see the world through an infinite web of “hyperlinked” ideas.  We have information at our fingertips like never before and our attention has shifted from the data-driven to the interpretive, seeking out patterns and cultivating relationships.  Connecting is at the heart of modern life, and the connections we make whether factual or fantastic, tell us stories about ourselves and the world among us.”

I was also intrigued by a quote I discovered later during our tour of the exhibit:

“Everything eventually connects – people, ideas, objects.  The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.”Charles Eames

When we talk of peer advantage, we mean people connections with individuals and in group settings.  I incorporated what I saw at the Renwick Gallery into my presentation to the CEOs and business leaders at the event the following day.   As you might imagine, it added a certain weight – a special brand of gravity to the value of the people we surround ourselves with and how and why they matter so much.  It’s these connections that so often either lift us up, drag us down, or hold us at bay.  Food for thought for the weekend, as you are hopefully spending time with those whom personally lift you up the most.

*The featured image is from the exhibit – a woven sculpture by Janet Echelman.  I invite you to read its description here and check out her amazing work by clicking on her name.





HBR Takes On Why Leadership Training Fails

In the October issue of Harvard Business Review, Michael Beer, Magnus Finnström and Derek Schrader wrote a piece titled Why Leadership Training Fails — and What to Do About It.  I’d like to share the comment I left on HBR’s site and expand upon it a bit.

I really enjoyed the article! It offers solid evidence for a phenomenon I first described in 2011 as Trickle-Down Leadernomics: “Episodic training designed to stimulate positive behavioral changes, aimed to help executives be better leaders who inspire commitment rather than mere compliance, resulting in a more productive work environment and happier employees who, ultimately, will improve the company’s bottom-line somewhere down the road.”

Doesn’t sound very promising when you put it that way, does it?  That’s because, as you all pointed out so eloquently, it isn’t.

Trickle-Down Leadernomics isn’t just troublesome because of the “trickle-down” part; worse yet, it tends to function as a linear process rather than a reinforcing one. Meaning, if you can’t really measure the impact of the executive development program to the organization, it won’t serve to inspire future investments in learning. And without a mechanism to implement learning, such as the cross-functional work teams that were used by MEPD, it will never become evident in the organization in a meaningful way.

With myriad challenges facing today’s leaders, it will take more than gravity to assure that the substantial investments being made in leadership development are positively impacting the bottom line. The problem has to be addressed horizontally, rather than vertically. This is where I believe cross-functional teams of peers working together is at least one good answer. Thanks for shining a bright light on this important topic!

The real challenge here is that executives attend leadership training programs, acquire a few new tools, learn some interesting concepts, and within a few weeks’ time, they’re back to the same old, pre-training behaviors.  This happens largely because there is no mechanism for integrating what they’ve learned into their day-to-day lives.  By the time, they catch up on everything they missed while they were out of the office, they get caught up in just keep their heads above water.

To be fair, our expectations may be a tad unrealistic, but until we stop treating leadership learning as a separate activity, it will never take hold.  By using a more integrated approach, like the cross-functional work teams described in the article, executives can enlist the support of their peers as they work to implement and perfect better ways of leading.

John Dewey once wrote, “There is no such thing as educational value in the abstract.”  So if you want to become a better leader, adopting and perfecting new behaviors will take more than participating in a training exercise.  You’ll need a peer support mechanism to make it all stick.  It’s among the 5 reasons 2017 will be the Year of the Peer!  If you want to read about the other four, check out my article at Shaping the Odds.  Thanks!

Image from

The Intersection of Mindfulness & Peer Advantage

Yesterday, I embarked on a four mile hike in Crested Butte, CO (one of my favorite spots on the planet) to enjoy the fall aspens and a magnificent panorama that lacked any of the traffic or the stop lights of southern California.  To paint a more complete picture, I spent part of my hike listening to Earth, Wind & Fire’s greatest hits through my ear buds.  I haven’t listened to that “album” in years, and I can’t for the life of me tell you why I selected it, but I felt transported.

It reminded me of how, as a kid, when I listened to music, I was always fascinated by the harmonies and instruments playing in the background – it’s what, for me at least, gives music its richness.  I thought about why I always loved bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, Miami Sound Machine, and Chicago (yes, I’m dating myself).  The words can be poetic and the melodies are catchy, but the arrangements are pure genius.

I enjoyed my time alone yesterday.  Nothing else in the world mattered.  I was living in the moment, enjoying sights and sounds that rendered anything else completely irrelevant.  It was my personal brand of mindfulness.  As I sit here now, I’m contemplating what I’ll call the intersection of mindfulness and peer advantage.   If I am more mindful, will I experience peer advantage more fully for myself and create more value for others?   Based on a piece I read recently by Dr. Melanie Greenberg in Psychology Today, I would have to say, “Yes, of course!”  Her article speaks to nine essential qualities for mindfulness including being fully present, openness to experience, non-judgment, and connection, to name a few.  Turns out that her nine qualities align perfectly with the five factors required for experiencing peer advantage for yourself and others.

Next month, I will participate in a mindfulness workshop delivered by Amy Sandler.  (I’m really looking forward to it.) My guess is that Amy will reinforce the idea that being more mindful as an individual will only make me a stronger peer – that being truly mindful and being connected more deeply with others gives life its richness, too.  Can’t wait to tell you all about it!



Fashioning A New Approach

Using our new PEER method for telling peer advantage stories, read Xavi Gutierrez’s* story and consider submitting one of your own using this simple outline.  To review the guidelines for submitting stories, click here!

*The member’s name and other details in this story have been changed to protect member confidentiality.


Xavi Gutierrez is the Founder and CEO of a tech startup which provides customized ecommerce solutions for fashion stores.  His company was doing pretty well in the Spanish market, and after securing an additional round of funding to expand his business, Xavi set his sights on finding a partner in the UK and eventually expanding globally.


After Xavi received the funds to go global, with a specific focus on Europe during this first growth stage, Xavi tried without success to identify and hire a partner in the UK. Given the international diversity of the peers (namely from the UK market) of the online mastermind groups available at CEO World, he decided to become a member and join a group with the hope that the members might provide him with the support he needed to achieve his goals.


Xavi shared his challenge with the group during his very first meeting, focusing largely on how frustrated he was at his lack of success.  After only 20 minutes of conversation, it became evident that Xavi’s pitch was missing the mark for a UK audience.  It was also clear that the value being offered wasn’t appealing enough for someone to risk investing in this partnership. After a few rounds of clarifying questions, the group members learned enough to suggest additional resources Xavi should explore before moving forward, along with some ideas that Xavi could use to make his pitch and his offer more attractive to a potential partner.  This would involved Xavi securing a few UK clients himself first.
Not only did Xavi make a commitment to the group that he would rethink his approach, but also several group members volunteered to work with Xavi outside the construct of the meeting – which they did.  Xavi’s peers also saw to it that he remained committed to the goal, as opposed to focusing on obstacles or making excuses.


After 12 weeks (three, two-hour mastermind sessions later), Xavi hired his first UK client.  Twenty-six weeks later (6 sessions later), Xavi’s team hired 10 UK clients, and soon after, Xavi convinced a local partner to sell his services in the UK market. Xavi’s initial goal was achieved.  During the following year, Xavi would use this approach to break into 5 new European markets.  As Xavi sets his sights on entering the United States and Asia, he plans to do so with the help of his peers as part of a new mastermind group, with peers who are experiencing the same “business stage” issues and who understand the American and Asia markets.

A New CEO World For Entrepreneurs

Imagine being the founder of what you believe will be the next great company.  You’re in the embryonic stages of forming your organization.  You know you’re headed down a long and lonely road, and a potentially rewarding one, assuming you don’t screw it up!   Now consider what it would be like to be approached by a major player who leads peer advisory groups for CEOs and business leaders in your area.

At first you might conclude, “Excellent, this is exactly what I need!”  You salivate at the prospect of meeting with your peers on a regular basis in a forum where you can talk about your toughest challenges and greatest opportunities.  You’ve read just enough to know how well these groups tend to help people become better leaders and grow their companies.  But then you find out how much it costs and how much time it will consume.  (Turns out this is the stage where both cash and time can be really tight). What’s more, because of your unpredictable travel schedule, you know before you start that your participation at locally-based monthly meetings may be unreliable at best.  It’s a situation that could be bad for you and unfair to the group.  Oh boy.  Now what?

Turns out Miguel Dias has something to show you.  Recently, CEO World launched its new website.  Miguel’s peer advantage solution not only tackles the issues of time, money and participation, it offers you access to other CEOs around the world who will give you an all new perspective to help you think and act more globally.

CEO World assembles and professionally facilitates mastermind groups specifically for entrepreneurs and leaders of early stage companies.  The groups are comprised of 6-8 people just like you (and yet not exactly like you at all) who meet online once a month for two jam-packed hours, including 30-minutes with a guest CEO who has been where you want to go.  You not only get the kind of help you need, but it’s offered at a fraction of the cost, in two-hour sessions (versus a half-day or full-day), and can be accessed from wherever you may be traveling (assuming you have a decent internet connection).

So does CEO World deliver something that Vistage, EO, Renaissance, TAB, or YPO doesn’t?  The answer is, yes and no.  CEO World is a different model, delivered on a different platform, and designed to meet the needs and requirements of an entirely different demographic.  CEO World opens up the world of peer advantage to those who otherwise might find it difficult, if not impossible, to access and makes it work for them. That’s CEO World’s killer app!   Over time, the market will decide for itself whether this is a gateway drug for traditional, in-person groups or a stand-alone alternative that meets their specific needs on an ongoing basis.  My guess is that leaders will be attracted to both options in greater numbers.

That said, CEO World is not a competitor to the big guys, so much as a companion.  If they all play their cards right, you’ll see what 1 + 1 = 3 really looks like!   If your organization leads CEO mastermind or peer advisory groups and you’re delivering true peer advantage to your members, tell me about it.  I’m more than happy to spread the word about what you’re doing.  Why not create a new world for everyone!





If You Want to Go Fast, Go Together!

Last week, my friend Phil and I drove to Petco Park for the third game of the three game series between the Boston Red Sox and the San Diego Padres.  We live in San Diego, but we both grew up in the Boston area.  If you know anything about Red Sox fans, you know we are always Sox fans, no matter where we live, and as you might have guessed, we attended all three games.  In case you had any doubts, Red Sox Nation is real.

But I digress… so as we were driving to the game from Del Mar to downtown, traffic was at a standstill and showing no signs of loosening up.  With two of us in the car, however, this afforded us the opportunity to drive in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane.  We could simply get out of the lanes where everyone was driving alone and bypass all the traffic.  Which we did.

HOV lanes have been around in the US since the 70’s.  Since I’m always on the lookout for peer advantage metaphors, it occurred to me that the African proverb that appears at the open of The Power of Peers: “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” had to have been written prior to 1969 because we were going much faster together than any of the drivers going it alone.

As we sailed by hundreds of cars, we estimated that we saved at least 40 minutes getting to the game.  For us, it was the difference between making it on time and showing up in the third inning.  Turns out that together, you can go far and fast.  Think about that the next time you hesitate to collaborate with someone for fear it will slow you down.  It’s more likely that you’ll discover a new road – the one less traveled.

*Image from