Where in the World Is The Power of Peers?

The power of peers is everywhere!  It’s present in every corner of the globe, whether you live in a high context culture (Japan/China) or a lower context culture (United States/United Kingdom).*  With this in mind, I’m taking The Power of Peers on the road – on a European book tour of sorts.  Okay, to be more precise, it’s not part of the ACTUAL book tour; however, I do plan to bring it with me to a number of incredible European cities over the course of a 12-day trip starting later this week.

On select days during my time overseas, I’ll post clues on Twitter and LinkedIn as to the The Power of Peers’ whereabouts.  Be the first to guess the location of The Power of Peers (the book) on a particular day,  and I’ll send you a signed copy upon my return!  I will announce the winners publicly on Twitter and LinkedIn on the following day – keep that in mind if you choose to enter.  Once it’s been announced that you won, please contact me directly with your mailing address (which of course will remain confidential).

We know the power of peers is everywhere; my copy of The Power of Peers could be anywhere.  I look forward to your joining me on the trip!

*If you’re interested in learning more about high and low context cultures, check out the book Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall!

Peers, Agility & Being Ever Prepared

Recently, I (Leo Bottary) sat down with organizational agility expert and Vistage Worldwide Chair,  Mike Richardson to talk about how peer advantage can give leaders and their companies an agility advantage.  In this excerpt from our conversation, I talk about how our peers can help us prepare for what’s next, as Mike affirms that preparedness is essential to organizational agility.   For more information, check out The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success and Wheelspin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuhxWY-JfV8?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

Five Factors for Peer Advantage

Recently, I (Leo Bottary) sat down with Mike Richardson, who is an organizational agility expert and Chair for Vistage Worldwide.  We talked about how peer advantage provides organizational leaders with an agility advantage.  In this brief excerpt, I offer an overview of the five factors that help business leaders realize true peer advantage, as outlined in The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXm48yuw4gs?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

UCONN Women's Basketball: Peerless

Last April, statistician and writer Nate Silver dubbed the UCONN Women’s Basketball 2015 squad as the most dominant college basketball team on earth.  Fast forward to April, 2016 and the dominance continues, with UCONN adding a fourth consecutive national championship, the team capped an undefeated season (its 6th all-time) with an average margin of victory of nearly 40 points per game.  UCONN won its semi-final game at the Final Four against Oregon State by 29 points and the final against Syracuse by 31 to win its 11th national championship since capturing its first title in 1995.  Wow!

Mia Hamm once said, “It’s harder to stay on top than it is to get there.”  So how does Connecticut do it and what can we learn from this incredible team?  In addition to the strong peer-to-peer culture I described in two earlier posts, UCONN optimizes in ways other teams don’t. In our book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, we talk about four ways we engage our peers.  One of them we call optimize!

We optimize when we work together in teams to bring a high level of excellence to achieving a common goal. Leaders often form organizational “tiger teams” to tackle special projects. The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, conducts debriefs following every (what we see as perfect) flight to talk about how they can do better the next time. Top sports teams participate in practices that are often more rigorous than the games to ensure top performance when it truly counts.  Former UCONN and current WNBA star Sue Bird says that no women’s basketball team practices like they do at Connecticut.  And as an ESPN analyst, she’s been to a lot of women’s college basketball practices.

The work of optimizing tends to take place among a more homogeneous group of peers and be temporary in nature, determined by either the length of a specific project or the span of a season.  When it comes to business, we need to take time to practice, and we certainly should make the time to bring people together for debriefs.  Unfortunately, most companies don’t do much of either.  I believe we could have more companies that are consistently great, if people would just do what it takes to make that possible.

Longtime Runners’ World writer Joe Henderson once said (and I’m paraphrasing), it’s not always about doing things no one can do, it’s about doing things anyone can do but don’t.  While UCONN has three of the best players in the country graduating in the next month or so, it’s likely that next year’s team will continue to do what most teams don’t, and by believing in each other, they’ll be poised for another fantastic season.


Why Everyone Should Watch UCONN Women's Basketball – Especially CEOs

The image I selected for this post is obviously not related to basketball.  Instead, I chose a photo most of you will recognize from one of the most dramatic moments in all of sports –  Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont by 31 lengths – check out the video).   Jack Nicklaus, the dominant golfer of his era, recalled watching the race alone at home and being moved to tears by this overwhelming performance. (It still gives me chills). I’d like to talk about why everyone – especially CEOs – should watch the NCAA Final Four for Women’s basketball (Sunday, 4/3 and Tuesday night, 4/5).

Last week, Dan Shaughnessy released a tweet and subsequent Boston Globe article stating that UCONN Women’s Basketball is simply too dominant.  So much so that it’s hurting the women’s game.  Shaughnessy argues that it’s the competition that matters, and if the outcome is considered a certainty before the game starts, then why should anyone watch?  If he’s right and that were actually the case, then we would pay to watch anybody play a sport, right?  Try assembling a bunch of average basketball players in a major arena with the simple promise that it will be a close game.  How many tickets do you think you’d sell to that one?

It’s a flawed argument.  Sports fans pay their hard earned money to see the best!  They pay to watch outstanding individual players and teams in their respective sports perform at the very highest levels.  Close games can be exciting, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing more incredible than watching a team or an individual player firing on all cylinders.  Just think about the last time you witnessed a performance that challenged, and even expanded, your understanding of greatness.  I bet you can remember it like it was yesterday.

Dan Shaughnessy asserts that next week’s women’s Final Four isn’t worth watching because it’s a forgone conclusion that UCONN will win the national championship.  I would argue that you won’t want to miss it.  It will be a sight to see!

UCONN will prepare for the Final Four with same level of effort and discipline they’ve given for every game all season.  That’s who they are.  You’ll see a team that is talented and well coached, certainly.  Yet look more closely, and you’ll discover a powerful peer-to-peer culture that’s been evident since winning their first national championship in 1995.

Over time, that culture has only grown stronger, as every player who has put on the UCONN jersey over the years has left a piece of themselves behind.  Opposing teams are not simply suiting up against Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck, and company, they’re playing UCONN greats Rebecca Lobo, Shea Ralph, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and the countless former players who live in the hearts of this year’s team.  That’s why UCONN is so tough to beat!

In our book The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, we highlight UCONN women’s basketball as a shining example of what’s possible when teams realize peer advantage to the degree it exists at Connecticut.  While we invite you to read about it because of what UCONN will teach you and your organization about pursuing and sustaining excellence,  be sure to watch the Final Four and see this team in action for yourselves.

Ron Turcotte looked over his left shoulder before crossing the finish line at the Belmont because, “My curiosity got the best of me,” he said.  This weekend, be curious and watch one of the greatest teams in the history of sports do what they love to do.  It will be well worth watching.







The Communication Triad

Revisiting a regrettable chapter from my junior high school days, albeit painful, provided us with a metaphor for why the receipt of any communication, as intended, is the responsibility of the sender as opposed to the receiver.  Now I understand why this may seem unreasonable to some people.  Maybe the person wasn’t listening or just ignored an important text or email. Things like this happen all the time, right?  So why is that the sender’s fault?  The thing is, it’s not about assigning blame, it’s about accepting  responsibility.  It comes down to verifying and not assuming.  It’s how great leaders assure that they’re not just writing or talking – they’re actually communicating.

That said, most of us can use help in that area.  So working in teams of three versus teams of two (triads instead of dyads) can provide added assurance that everyone is on the same page.  In the book Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, they note the power of triads in communication.  For example, if one person is talking to another, and it becomes apparent that the two people are not on the same page, the third member of the group can be extremely effective at clearing up misunderstandings.   It can work the same way in a larger group, where you have a leader, a member, and the group itself serving as the third leg of the stool.  It’s how the highest performing CEO peer advisory groups engage each other during each and every meeting.

In our book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success (which will be officially released on 3/22), we offer this concept as just one small example of what it can mean when we accept responsibility for our success, surround ourselves with the right people, and reap the benefits of what we call peer advantage.  Communicating with one another more effectively is just the tip of the iceberg.   I invite you to pick up three copies – one for you and two more for the other members of your triad!

A Power of Peers Q&A

With the release of The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Success & Growth, by Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary set to take place in three weeks (March 22nd), I thought I’d share this authors’ Q&A!  If you have additional questions, please let me know!

Q: What prompted you to write this book?

To introduce more leaders to the power of peers. While thousands of CEOs will tell you that being part of a CEO peer advisory group has transformed their lives and their companies, too few of them are ever exposed to the experience. They read books, attend executive leadership programs, go to conferences, hire coaches, etc. – which we applaud – but we also believe that CEOs who don’t harness the power of their peers and realize what we call “peer advantage,” are really missing out. By giving language to this powerful resource, we hope more CEOs and business owners will discover how much they (and their organizations) will benefit from joining a group.    

Q: How would you define “peer advantage”? How is it an effective method for CEOs and other leaders who struggle with isolation?

Without giving it a second thought or that much effort, we’ve experienced the power of peer influence our whole lives.  Imagine if we gave it a second thought.  If we are more selective, strategic, and structured about how we engage our peers, we can transform garden-variety peer influence into what we describe as “peer advantage.” It’s that simple. For CEOs and business owners, who all too often feel isolated, or “lonely at the top,” they will help each other in ways they won’t find anywhere else. 

Q: Besides isolation, what are some other key reasons a CEO might consider joining a peer group?

There are many, but let’s focus on two:

  1. An empathetic, impartial sounding board. CEOs are surrounded by advisors, employees, board members, etc. who, when it comes to giving advice, either have a stake in the outcome or don’t really understand what it’s like to sit in the CEO’s chair. This is where a CEO peer advisory group comes in. CEOs rely on their peers, who empathize with the CEO role and have no personal stake in the outcome, to pressure test decisions they are about to make. It’s a powerful resource that gives CEOs not only the insights to make the best decisions, but also the increased confidence to act on them.
  2. Diversity of perspective. By engaging with CEOs from a broad range of industries outside of their own, they will discover best practices that can be applied to their business that they would not likely discover by working with leaders within their industry sector. This opens up a new of world possibilities for most CEOs.

Q: In Chapter 1, you explain that the people with whom we surround ourselves matters a great deal. What are some basic guidelines CEOs should follow when selecting a peer group to join?

CEO Peer Advisory Groups are what Etienne Wenger-Trayner calls “Communities of Practice.” The structural characteristics of a community of practice include having a domain that involves a common knowledge base around a shared purpose, a community willing to collaborate, and a practice with a solid set of approaches, language, and tools. So if you’re a CEO, join a group that consists of CEOs who share goals that align with your own, who are committed to working together, and who enjoy solid practices and a culture of accountability that raises everybody’s game.

Q: You discuss vulnerability in Chapter 5. Why is it a necessary element for a successful peer group experience?

 Your peers can’t give you solid advice if you’re unwilling or afraid to share everything about the challenges you’re facing. That includes being open about what you think and how you feel, no matter how difficult that may be to share. The outcome will only be as good as the input. Being among a group of people whom you trust to share in a setting that is safe, confidential and free of judgment, not only helps in a given situation, but also serves to build an enduring trust among group members.

Q: In addition to individual growth, you write that peer advantage can benefit and accelerate business growth as well. What’s one example of this?

 Business growth and individual growth are two sides of the same coin. Jay Steinfeld grew as a person and as a leader before his “mom & pop” blinds business became a $100+ million dollar company that was recently acquired by The Home Depot. It’s one of the most compelling stories in the book.

The Wisdom of Walk-Ons & Pitch Ninja

One of the great things about writing a book is that it opens doors to meeting interesting people who are willing to share their knowledge and their books with you.  This exchange fosters the kind of peer-to-peer learning that serves as the foundation for The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Success & Growth.  Who we surround ourselves with matters – even if it’s just for a few days!

This past week, I was honored to speak to groups of students at Northwestern (Kellogg) and University of Chicago (Booth) business schools.  In addition to everything I learned from the great questions and insights that came from some of the world’s finest business school students, professors Paul L. Corona (The Wisdom of Walk-Ons) and Mike Moyer (Pitch Ninja) generously shared their books with me.

Paul Corona offers powerful lessons for business and life in his book, The Wisdom of Walk-Ons!  Let’s face it, most of us are walk-ons, not scholarship athletes.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re not capable of achieving success beyond measure in our respective fields – if we put our minds to it.  Three well-told, true stories reveal seven strategies we can all apply to our own lives!  Two of the strategies near and dear to my heart are: appreciate your supporters and help others succeed. (By the way, if you ARE a scholarship athlete, there’s something for you here as well).  Enjoy the Foreword by legendary Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden and read a book you won’t be able to put down.

As for Mike Moyer’s, Pitch Ninja, I was privileged not only to read the book, but also I got to see Mike deliver a live presentation about the book, using the incredibly effective pitching and presentation concepts he espouses.  Trust me, when I say they really work.  I’ve witnessed and participated in numerous presentation training programs in my career, and I’ve never come across anything quite like Mike Moyer’s program.  I’m in the process of creating a PowerPoint presentation about the power of peers specific to business leaders, and I can’t wait to implement everything from the Zone Program and my new special Ninja moves, to providing real flow, and of course, using “Magic Hands!”  (Now you have to read the book, right?)  Great stuff!

It’s one thing to promote really good content, yet it’s especially rewarding to support good people.  Paul was kind enough to take me to lunch, and Mike drove me from the University of Chicago campus back to my downtown hotel at the end of the day – proactive acts of kindness that made my week.   You can support them too by buying both books.  You’ll be glad you did!

The Value of an Outside Perspective

In The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, we talk a great deal about the importance of seeking outside perspectives – about the unbelievable value that can come from someone giving us a fresh take on what appears to be an unsolvable problem.  This video has been around since 2010, but it offers such a clear illustration of getting outside your small circle and venturing beyond it, I just had to share.  Listen to the first few minutes of this clip, as William Ury, coauthor of Getting to Yes, masterfully shares the story of 17 camels.  If you have time, I encourage you to watch this TED Talk in its entirety to learn more about the value of storytelling!  Enjoy and tell me what you think!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hc6yi_FtoNo&w=622&h=350]

The "Perfect" Smart Guide Metaphor

In our book, The Power of Peers: How The Company You Keep Drives, Leadership, Growth & Success, we talk about the value of the “smart guide” who essentially serves as the servant leader of a CEO Peer advisory group.  So I got to thinking today about Sam Arthur.  Who is Sam Arthur you ask? He’s my favorite character from Robert H. Thompson’s book, The Offsite – A Leadership Challenge Fable. I’d like to tell you about Sam, but my challenge is to do so without giving away too much about the book or revealing what we discover about Sam as the story progresses. Suffice it to say that Sam is the gardener, or as he would call himself, “the groundskeeper” at Tucson, Arizona’s La Mariposa Resort & Spa – the location of the offsite meeting for two high-powered teams from competing pharmaceutical companies.

So why is the gardener so significant?  Consider for a moment that the author could have given Sam any job at the hotel – manager, bellman, concierge, etc. Sam’s the gardener because Thompson offers us the perfect metaphor for servant leadership. Sam sees to it that the soil is healthy. He makes sure the plants get enough water and sun, and that their environment is free from weeds and pests.  The plants are given everything they need to succeed on their own. Sam knows that if he creates the right conditions for growth, his gardens will flourish.

One would hardly imagine Sam yelling at the flowers to grow faster or fuller.  Or firing a plant who is not thriving by yanking it out of the ground only to replace it with a new, fresh variety (without first knowing for certain whether the plant was struggling because of something Sam did).  While that kind of behavior is clearly not in Sam’s nature, he also understands that it doesn’t work.  Sam’s approach to nurturing his garden is what great leaders do to build successful enterprises and how seasoned smart guides lead high-performing peer advisory groups.  They create conditions for people to flourish!

The beauty of the story is that Sam is not simply defined by his job or the associated servant leadership metaphor. He reminds us of the importance of having real passion for whatever we do because, more than pay, the joy we bring to others should serve as the true reward for our life’s work. Sam also redefines the meaning of the word “perfect.” Interestingly enough, it’s not about perfection at all.

Pick up a copy of The Offsite. Find out how Sam uses the word “perfect” and discover your own favorite character. There are some great ones, but to me, Sam is…well…perfect.