Later this morning I’ve been asked to participate in a webinar focused on a topic I’ve been focused on for more than 2 decades. The topic, peer collaboration for CEO’s and business owners. I facilitated my first peer event on my birthday in 1996, which is almost exactly 21 years ago. Over that time I’ve probably facilitated hundreds and hundreds of peer groups and round table discussions. I’ve also been able to coach many of these people one-on-one which has been awesome as well. So, what did I learn from all these interactions?
The first answer, I learned more about IT resellers than I ever could have imagined. Starting in 2000 we started to focus all of our energies on businesses that resold technology for Cisco, IBM, Avaya, HP, Microsoft and every other tech firm in the world. We would bring together people from across the US that didn’t compete based on the geography they covered rather than being non-competitive in a specific city, which is the model of most peer group companies. Over 15 years I must have met well over 2,000 owners and learned more about their businesses than I ever could have dreamed. We were even able to write a book about their businesses having never run one.
As for the generic learning, I realized that the best way for a business owner to learn how to grow their business is to spend time with others that are facing the same challenges that they are. The Edward Lowe Foundation, which was started by Edward & Darlene Lowe, is a non-profit that focuses on entrepreneurship. Their $105 million foundation has invested 100% of it’s efforts to help organizations develop peer programs across the globe. They have a document titled Peerspectives which is one of the best documents that I ever read about why peer groups are so powerful and what they can do for you. You can learn more about the Peerspectives model on their website.
The most famous book that outlines the power of peer collaboration or the mastermind is Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. This book outlines what the mavericks of the early part of the 20th century did to grow their empires. This include Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller and numerous others. The book talks about how these great titans learned so much from each other rather than each learning the same lessons on their own. This, for me, is the greatest reason to join a peer group. It’s all about the stuff that you don’t know that you don’t even know. In business things happen to others that you could never imagine happening to you. Yet, by listening to their story in a confidential environment you can start to think about what you might do in a similar situation. You can share best practices in areas of business that you are expert in and you can learn from peers who have complementary strengths.
In the end, the best thing about a confidential and trusted peer group is the ability to share everything that you can’t share with anyone else. You can’t talk with your spouse about all this stuff, you can’t talk with your lawyer or accountant, and most of all you can’t share much of it with your employees. So, where do you turn to discuss the most critical issues that you’re dealing with? It has to be your peers. But, and this is a big but, you need to really get to know the people you’re spending time with. There are many times that you’ll get advice from another business owner that you met at a bar for 30 minutes, yet most of that advice is just a story not what they really did. You need to get to the truth and be able to judge the value of the information you’re receiving and that only comes with time and getting to know other business owners. I would always open a peer group by telling the group four things:
- Everything that said in the room stays in the room
- You own your own issues (which means you can share them anywhere you’d like)
- Speak from your own experience
- Focus on asking questions rather than giving advice
Over the years I’ve seen more best friends meet for the first time, seen more owners take a deep breath knowing they found a place to share their deepest darkest secrets and heard more funny and painful stories about the life of a business owner. I wouldn’t trade the past two decades for anything and I look forward to always spending time with business owners and entrepreneurs as that is what I consider home. For each owner that I spend time with I always suggest joining a peer group and I hope that you’ll join Patrick Henry and me later this morning for our webinar!
Have a great day and to a life well lived!