Mavens completed its two years today! While we are busy wishing & complimenting each other for all the intense entrepreneurial initiatives that we have jointly executed, we thought we should also take this opportunity to evangelize the concept of ‘CEO Peer Groups’.
I was having a conversation with the founder CEO of a very large Pune (Hinjewadi) headquartered IT organization who also was one of our prior The Senate Talk Show guests. He is a strong sponsor of Pune chapter of a large global entrepreneurship fostering organization with which even I had been associated with. He wanted to know why did I prefer to start Mavens when we could have driven these (/some of these) initiatives under that group. I explained to him that Mavens is a CEO Peer Group and has a very different objective. Mavens aims at creating ‘a large impact on a small number of entrepreneurs’ while ‘that group’ brings about ‘a small impact on a large number of entrepreneurs’!
I have been actively associated with various entrepreneurial groups during my 8+ years of journey as an entrepreneur. I had the fortune to be associated with BNI, world’s largest business referral organization. Of course, there are umpteen organizations which copy the BNI model, and make it cost effective, with (or without) minor terminology variations. Then there are organizations, though much fewer, which regularly host seminars, conferences, knowledge sessions etc which certainly add value by enriching the audience. However I always felt that these inputs, most of the times ad-hoc, are like cooking khichdi with fire kept a few meters away as in Akbar-Birbal’s famous story!
What entrepreneurs/CEOs need is a trusted group of peer CEOs who can form a ‘backbone of support’ for each other. As SMEs, we have a very limited appetite to digest failure. Likewise, we also may miss out on leveraging (or fully leveraging) the opportunities that are offered to us. A ‘backbone’, in the form of a CEO Peer Group, has an immense potential to ensure success and reduce/avoid failures. A CEO Peer Group plays a threefold role in ensuring success of an entrepreneur:
(1) as an Advisory Board (/informal ‘Board of Directors’)
(2) as a Learning Platform and
(3) as a ‘mirror’
As an Advisory Board
For this informal ‘Board of Directors’ to work as the backbone, it’s essential that peer CEOs meet very regularly with structured agenda as small, intimate, highly-engaged group of entrepreneurs over a long period of time developing fantastic bon-homie, chemistry & therefore trust. With a ‘perfect’ & conducive environment like this, various initiatives can be driven which transcend much beyond ‘learning’ to form a strong & effective advisory platform that members can rely on for smallest to most strategic advice.
What CEO Peer groups should ensure is to cumulate knowledge & learning that each member has and through effective brainstorming translate this combined body of knowledge coupled with cumulative experience of the group into ‘direct application’ to a member’s business. The advice gained through these discussions make a lot more sense because fellow members know each other’s businesses very well. This can happen in reactive mode by picking up various business problems & opportunities of a member for discussion. However, even greater gain results when the group induces the member to think beyond the boundaries and to think of innovative offerings, minor/major improvements, newer & effective ways to do things etc.
A well advised entrepreneur will make lot lesser mistakes. A CEO Peer Group with good diversity will have all the skills in-house because some of the members would be CAs, lawyers, consultants (from various spheres) and of course entrepreneurs with a wide gamut of experience. As a result, every discussion topic will get vetted in every possible angle.
Most SME entrepreneurs are stuck in operational rigmarole, many times out of compulsion but also because they lack a strategic mindset. They hardly have time (& many times orientation) to spend on strategic dimensions of the business. Even if some of them do so, this happens in an ad-hoc manner. A CEO Peer Group ensures that entrepreneurs stay wired and keep doing justice to all functions of an organization including strategy. It also ensures that Peer CEOs complement each other and fill in for shortcomings of others.
The above benefits can accrue, if and only if, members consider their CEO Peer Group as one of their topmost strategic priority rather than treating this as one of their low ranking side activities. After all, would you think twice while attending your Board of Directors meeting?
As a Learning Platform
While direct, relevant advice to fellow members forms the cornerstone of a CEO Peer Group, continuous learning is another crucial objective. Successful people never stop learning. Lifelong learning is the first step in becoming an outstanding performer. A famous quote by Gandhiji says “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
You take formal training for everything – your formal education, swimming, driving, music, dramatics etc. However, something that every entrepreneur spends several decades on, we never take any formal training. This is absurd, isn’t it? A CEO Peer Group brings the benefits of an educational institute to entrepreneurs by serving as a lifelong B-school for entrepreneurs.
As a ‘mirror’
CEO is a lonely job. One of the major causes of loneliness is self-induced and is known as the Founder’s Syndrome symptomized by lack of communication with other people about their problems. The intensity of the CEO's job, coupled with the scarcity of peers to confide in, creates potentially dangerous feelings of isolation among chief executives. However, if you want to succeed, you’ll have to find ways to tackle this problem head-on.
Leader’s actions reverberate and therefore leader’s feeling of loneliness becomes a larger problem for many other stakeholders. For a leader, feeling lonely in their post negatively affects their ability to do their jobs leading to poor decision-making, negativity, fatigue and frustration. After all who wants to work with an unhappy person?
Isolation limits opportunities for increased self-awareness and blind spots develop. Stanford management professor Bob Sutton explains a situation in which people who gain authority over others tend to become more self-centered and less mindful of what others need, do, and say. The problem is compounded because a leader’s self-absorbed words and deeds are scrutinized very closely by his or her followers. Combined, these tendencies make what he terms as Toxic Tandem.
It is very difficult to break this toxic tandem if the CEO doesn’t have trusted sources to rely on for holding mirror up to them and shedding light on their blind spots. This makes it important for the CEOs to find one or two trusted sources who will provide the CEO with unvarnished feedback. Trusted board members or peer CEOs can often play this role. This precisely is the need that a CEO Peer group can fulfill.
On a closing note, a CEO Peer Group ensures that a CEO’s longest and most challenging journey is fun-filled and certainly not alone!