“Connecting with other people of equal standing in small groups for collective benefit is a human tradition that goes back to the times when tribal leaders gathered around the campfire to distill the day’s stories into lessons for tomorrow.”
This quote is from a Harvard Business Review article published in the May-June 2022 issue. In it, the two authors analyzed the effectiveness of peer groups over 10 years, and they introduced the results of their study with this thought provoking generalization of social interactions throughout time.
This principle plays out in a variety of ways in the world today. Take for example a U.S. President’s cabinet, assembled to include top experts and trusted advisors, courtroom juries who discuss common information taken in from different life perspectives, or on a very large scale, the United Nations, where the most powerful and influential people in the world gather to advocate for their own people and the “health” of the world as a whole.
As business leaders and CEOs, our circle of peers tends to be small to non-existent, and our world can often feel lonely and isolating.
But, it doesn’t have to. When I founded my company in 2006, I had no idea that there were peer groups for people like me. I went to networking meetings and lead groups, but these weren’t safe places where I could share my issues and fears or get advice: they were meetings where I always had to be “on” as a salesperson and therefore could not show vulnerability. I spent nearly a decade holding all the stress and strife as the sole decision maker of a business while looking for advice and help in books and in my online networks. It was in one of those searches that I found the answer.
“There’s only one thing I know will work for everyone. Get help. Find someone who knows you, knows your business, and who is willing to consult with you frequently.”
In his book, Downs describes how joining Vistage, a CEO coaching and peer advisory organization, played a critical role in both the success of his business and also his personal development as a leader. I was instantly intrigued, although unable to join Vistage right away: membership was expensive and my business was too small to meet their minimum revenue requirements. Shortly after finishing his book though, I had the opportunity to join another peer group for business owners, and it changed my life: I was no longer alone and was regularly meeting with hard-working entrepreneurs who knew what it was like to have to balance growth against profits, who were juggling budgets and business plans, and who knew the pain that comes with firing an employee that was a great person but a poor performer..
Like myself and Downs, countless others have found relief in peer groups.
“Being in a community with leaders in similar positions across industries and geographies opens one’s mind and heart in a way nothing else can. It’s humbling to see that our peers have the same challenges, and it’s inspiring to hear new visions of what’s possible when we use novel ways to approach these challenges.
Successful businesses are often the product of actions directed at long-term development. The peer group I belonged to was a forum experience similar to what EO offers and excellent for giving me a community and a safe space to express myself, but it didn’t have a coaching or professional development component. So, in 2019 I followed the example of my spirit guide Paul Downs and finally became a Vistage member. This spring, I will celebrate my 5th year in Vistage and the experience has been incredible. Vistage has given me access not only to a local group of business leaders I trust but also a worldwide network. I’ve also sponsored community events and gotten approved to be a speaker so I can share my knowledge and expertise with other Vistage groups.
Since I joined my first peer group in 2017 (I’m still a member), my business has tripled. My experience in my two groups has enriched my life, made me a better person and leader, and transformed my business in ways I could not have imagined.
“…all successful forums serve the same important function: They allow participants to share concerns, show vulnerability, hear different viewpoints, clarify priorities, and make decisions with greater confidence. Members also build camaraderie and form connections that help them feel safe, grounded, and capable in a volatile and uncertain world. The support they receive in forums sustains them through their toughest professional (and personal) challenges and fosters their long-term success.”
My point in writing this is not to sell you on joining a specific organization, but rather to remind you that if you are a business owner, you don’t need to accept loneliness as a fact of life: find your people, connect with others who understand what you’re dealing with and let them help you in your journey. Believe me, it helps.