The Learning Leadership Ensemble

Back on May 8th, I posted a review of Jim Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s new book, Learning Leadership.   I not only highly recommend the book for anyone who is a student of leadership (which is most of us I imagine), but also because I appreciate the bright light the authors shined on the value of engaging the support of others.   This is where peer advantage meets learning leadership.

It’s been my experience that there’s no silver bullet to becoming a great leader nor to achieving greatness at anything for that matter.  It typically involves an ensemble of activities and the generous support of others.  The authors’ ensemble for learning leadership involves believing in yourself, aspiring to excel, challenging yourself, engaging support and practicing deliberately.  Engaging support is where they see life as a team sport, stating that no one who has ever been great at anything achieved it alone.  Here’s how Kouzes and Posner opened Part V of their book Learning Leadership:

“You can’t learn to become the best leader all by yourself.  The top performers in every endeavor, including leaders, all seek out support, advice, and the counsel of others. That has a lot do with why they turn out to be the most successful.” 

Kouzes and Posner also go so far as to suggest that you form your own personal board of directors – 4 to 7 people who have diverse skills sets – who care about your success, provide you the advice you need, and help you meet the tough challenges and achieve the lofty goals you’ve identified for yourself and your organization.   Based on personal experience, this is a winning strategy that is both easy and effective, yet too few people do it.

The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, which I coauthored with Leon Shapiro, explores the value of engaging the support of others, while recognizing that it’s just one instrument in the learning leadership ensemble.  Since writing the book, I’ve been speaking throughout the U.S. and abroad, playing my small part by touting the value of engaging the support of others.  I invite you to join Kouzes and Posner in their lifelong quest to develop more and better leaders throughout the world – only together will we be successful.

*Photo from

Where One23 Meets Peer Advantage

We all have a story, but few people can leverage its narrative as Rahfeal Gordon has done so brilliantly in the 2nd edition of his riveting book One23.  In it, Rahfeal reveals a chronicle of hardship that delivers a promise of hope.  After sharing his deeply personal story, he also gives back to us, as others gave to him, by sharing 23 powerful strategies and a daily approach for how we can all find value in ourselves no matter where we came from.  Among them is enlisting the help of others.

As you’ll discover in the book, Rahfeal understood that everyone had something to teach him.  He received active and passive lessons from people from all walks of life.  By always paying attention, he apprehended the good from the good, and the good from the bad, and used what he learned to create personal clarity about the kind of man he wanted to be.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Rahfeal, and I will tell you that the man matches the narrative.  He’s every bit as thoughtful, positive, curious, inspiring, and generous as the account of his life reveals.  What’s most obvious is that Rahfeal understands the importance of surrounding himself with good people – people who lift him up, people who he can learn from, and people who hold him accountable to his lofty goals and his dream of making the world better than he found it.

Rahfeal does this by seeing the emptiness in the glass half-full as opportunity.  It’s a little like the story of the two shoe salesmen, who upon their return from a business trip to a village in India, each shared their assessment of the market potential.  The first salesman concluded, “Bad news.  No one was wearing shoes there.”  The second exclaimed, “Great news!  No one was wearing shoes there!”

While it’s easy to chuckle at the first salesman’s perspective, it’s far more common than you think. Earlier in my PR career, one of my clients was a 75+ year-old regional engineering firm. Everyone in the firm openly thought of themselves, and the company as a whole, as stodgy and resistant to change. (They practically wore it as a badge of honor).  My task was to update the messaging the leadership was using to communicate to the marketplace, which essentially reflected how they saw themselves.  This meant that my initial task was to convince the leaders to see themselves differently first.

In reading a book on the history of the firm, I discovered one story after the next where the company faced seemingly insurmountable odds only to reinvent itself, no matter what the market threw in its way.  The firm always figured out how to change its business to stay in business.  The history didn’t say stodginess, it screamed agility!  Only after the leadership saw it this way could they communicate their new message convincingly to the market.

You want to learn how to take your story (no matter how tough it’s been) and change the narrative?  To use your past to create a new foundation for a brighter future?  Read Rahfeal’s book and surround yourself with the kind of people who will help you see in you, what you may not see in yourself, and keep them close by.  It’s where One23 meets peer advantage.

To learn more about Rahfeal Gordon and read more of his books, visit his website at

Shaping the Odds!

Karen Floyd, SymmetryPR,  suggested I take a look at a thoughtful piece she wrote about peer advantage from a recent talk I gave at the ANJE Conference (pictured above).  Even more importantly from my perspective, she asked me to explore a new peer-to-peer community called Shaping the Odds.  At her request, I joined the community and look forward to working with my peers in this forum over the coming months.

Karen briefly described Shaping the Odds as a place that provides a warmer user experience than LinkedIn, while overcoming what some entrepreneurs believe to be the often too personal bent of Facebook.  (I was immediately intrigued).  At first glance. it delivers a perfect balance for entrepreneurs who believe in paying it forward and who wish to participate in a peer-to-peer community where expertise, mentorship, contacts, etc. can be shared among business leaders at all levels.  Over time, I can see it providing a wellspring of business and personal stories that will be invaluable for entrepreneurs and company leaders alike.

For more information on Shaping the Odds vision, check out what its founder, André Eidskrem has to say!  A community is only as strong as its members.  Shape the odds in your favor and theirs by giving it a try!

Want to go far? Go together.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  It’s among my favorite quotes, and the one we used to open our new book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success.   Turns out, I actually experienced this phenomenon firsthand on my recent trip to Porto, Portugal.  Let me explain.

Miguel Dias, CEO of CEO World was kind enough invite me to deliver a master class and participate as a mentor and as a member of a peer group at the ANJE Conference last month.  Prior to my leaving for the trip, Miguel asked me if I wanted to join him and a few of the other speakers for a morning run in Porto.  I thought, “What a great idea!”  Later, I learned that the other speakers accepted Miguel’s invitation with equal enthusiasm.  We all met in the hotel lobby early on Wednesday morning, well before the heat of the day would have made our run even more challenging.  Next thing you know, we were off and running – literally.

Now you may be asking yourself the question we should have asked before we embarked on this self-propelled excursion.  How far are we going?  Since none of us asked, we just kept running – from the Crowne Plaza hotel, through a lovely park which led us to the ocean, and then south along the ocean – a scenic tour of a beautiful section of Porto.  (And a run that up to this point was predominantly downhill).   It was at this time (about 7k or nearly 4.5 miles in), where we stopped for a quick selfie (pictured above left to right): Ryan Foland, Rahfeal Gordon, Miguel Dias, and yours truly  (the older guy at the end looking more exhausted than the other three).

As we were collecting ourselves, we learned two things: 1) We had to run back the same way we came (no shortcut to the hotel) and 2) because what goes down must come up, the remainder of our run would be primarily uphill.  Together, we ran to the hotel balancing a positive attitude with the familiar peer-to peer axiom “misery loves company.”

While you may regard this story as pretty unremarkable, consider this: Miguel invited us to run with him without knowing any of our running backgrounds or current fitness levels.  If he had, Miguel would have known that it’s been at least five years since either me, Ryan or Rahfeal have run anywhere close to that distance.

In talking with Ryan and Rahfeal upon our return to the hotel, we compared notes and agreed on three important points: 1) We all assumed (with a capital A) that it was unlikely that we would run any farther than 5-8 kilometers or 3-5 miles. 2) If we had been told that we were heading out for a run nearly twice that distance, we wouldn’t have even attempted it. 3) We ran farther than we could have ever predicted and much farther than any of us would have gone if left to our own devices.

It’s a fitting metaphor for the power of the group, whether you happen to be on a running tour or you’re running a company.  It offers all the proof I need that if you want to go far, you need the kind of people around you who will help you make that possible.  Who you surround yourself with matters, and on that summer morning in Porto, I could not have been surrounded by a finer group of people.

By the way, the quote we used to end the book, another African proverb, was “I am because you are.”





Class Clowns and Peer Advantage

During a recent appearance on Real Talk San Diego 1700 AM ESPN, I spoke with hosts Chase Peckham and Brian Blackburn about a range of subjects related to the power of peers and what I call peer advantage, particularly when it comes to high-performing sports teams – most notably The University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team.

We also touched on how early it all starts.  In this clip, we discussed class clowns and why the power of maintaining order in the classroom does not rest solely with the teacher; it actually rests with the group.  Here’s a brief video segment.  If you’d like to listen to the interview in its entirety, please do and let me know what you think!


The ANJE Advantage

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the ANJE – Associação Nacional de Jovens Empresários (National Association of Young Entrepreneurs) is an association based in Portugal that promotes entrepreneurship by establishing new development paradigms in business and encouraging less conservative attitudes regarding risk, making it easier for early stage companies to access capital.

Part of the ANJE’s charge is to promote professional training for its associates and young entrepreneurs and to encourage a robust exchange of information and experiences.  Last week, the ANJE was generous enough to invite me to Porto to deliver a master class on (Success in Business [and Life]: Who You Surround Yourself With Matters), mentor several entrepreneurs, and participate in a two-hour peer advisory group session led by Miguel Dias, CEO of CEO World, based in Porto.

What an experience!  The energy, enthusiasm, and intellect evident among the more than 200 attendees was palpable.  It reminded me of what I experienced in Chicago at 1871, when I participated in a panel discussion there earlier this year.  There’s just nothing quite like an environment fueled by entrepreneurs and leaders of early stage companies armed both with the ideas and the ability to bring those ideas to life!   The atmosphere of collaboration and sharing was magical.

Personally, I could not have been surrounded by a group of finer people.  I learned so much!  Porto is an incredible city.  The people set the standard for hospitality through the shear warmth of their embrace.  To top it off, we celebrated together on Wednesday evening when Portugal defeated Poland in the quarterfinals of the EUFA European Football Championships, as we watched a nail-biting round of penalty kicks that would eventually secure Portugal’s victory!

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the two other master class speakers, both of whom inspired and enlightened me and the audience – Rafheal Gordon and Ryan Foland.  Looking for some amazing presenters for your next event?  Check these guys out!

Who you surround yourself with DOES matter.  Peer advantage is the ANJE advantage!  Make it yours, too!

Who's On Your Learning Team?

Earlier this year, I delivered the keynote address to the graduates of Seton Hall University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication & Leadership (MASCL) program.   What you need to know about these students/mid-to-senior level executives is that they braved this program, not just an individuals, but as a learning team.  They declared victory together!  Here’s an assertion I shared with them:

“…the most valuable learning you had in this program didn’t come from one of your instructor’s posts or lectures; it didn’t come from the writings of Kouzes & Posner or Peter Senge; in fact, it didn’t come from WHAT you learned at all – it came from HOW you learned – that’s the most enduring lesson.

“You learned how to learn together. It’s quintessential peer advantage.  Think about it. Over time, facts can become irrelevant, theories outdated. Since we live in a world where we contemplate a future we barely can imagine, having the ability to work and learn with others is where the real enduring value lies.”

I’m not sure there has ever been a time in human history where people have had to work so hard just to keep up.  The challenge is that while we’re trying to handle what’s in front of us, we also have no choice but to prepare ourselves for what’s next.

Who is helping you do that?

Whether want to run a marathon or run a company, your learning team will keep you abreast of what’s next and help you cross the finish line.  The good news is you don’t have to enter a graduate program to find one. You just have to do three things:

  1. Set goals for yourself
  2. Identify and enlist people who share your passion and a desire to learn
  3. Invest time in each other’s success

You can join a peer group or start a learning team of your own.  If you’ve never experienced it, you may not know what you’re missing.  So I invite you to ask anyone who’s ever been part of a high-performing group or learning team.  They’ll tell you a simple truth about success, no matter how you define it:

Who you surround yourself with matters. 



Yo-Yo Ma on the Power of Peers

In a recent interview with HBR, Yo-Yo Ma talks about successful collaboration and the power of peers.  I’m not suggesting he referenced our book per se, but during the first seven minutes or so of the 18-minute interview, he touched on the concepts from our book that relate to working successfully with peers and how much our peers can challenge us to grow and see the world in different ways – to understand how two truths can co-exist if we are open to learning.  I encourage you to listen to the entire interview.  Pay close attention as he talks about keeping your ego in check, being vulnerable, learning rather than judging, valuing generosity and mutual respect, and understanding why surrounding yourself with the right people is so important.   It’s music to my ears.  Enjoy!