What is truly at stake in your next decision? Picture a pending business challenge or opportunity. What if you could see it from every perspective, angle and point of view, perhaps even from the past and into the future? You could eliminate all the blind spots.
The Desert Research Institute has such a tool for scientific research. Called the C.A.V.E., it is a six-sided virtual reality display that allows users to move physically into, and interact with, a simulated, recreated, imagined or altered world. Inside this sphere you can watch a forest fire develop and see how it moves and grows and what external factors impact it. Likewise, you can go into the human heart or the engine of a car. You can experiment with different choices and look for possible outcomes. It’s a very powerful tool.
A peer group can give CEO’s, business owners and executives that same kind of power. Imagine that pending decision with the added perspective of a dozen or so peers. Some groups assemble in excess of 300 years of experience, a perspective from having actually walked in your footsteps. Add the outlook of peers facing similar scenarios. Blend in the impartiality of peers who know just the right questions to ask and don’t have a personal vested interest in the outcome.
A peer group can help you improve as a leader so you can grow your business. There are some important elements in selecting a peer advisory group. Much like the C.A.V.E. you need an expert operator, a facilitator to keep the group on task insuring consistent, rich, diverse questions and recommendations. Three other vital ingredients are care, trust and challenge. Without any one of them the picture will not be as clear as possible for you. The members must be impartial. No matter how great your board of directors or management team may be, there is absolutely no way they can ask really objective questions and offer unbiased advice. They must challenge you.
How challenging? If you are comfortable working a situation in a peer group then the group is simply ineffective. Similar to “no pain, no gain” physical training, a true peer group will challenge you often to the point of discomfort. If they don’t, you don’t grow. A key part of that painful process is the precise clarifying questions that get asked by your peers. It’s a key ingredient: tough, straightforward questions that few others are brave enough to ask. They are vital to help getting deep into the issues behind the issues. Only through this clarifying questioning will the picture come into focus.
You will learn more about yourself and the decisions you face when your peers ask questions without the benefit, or perhaps hindrance, of knowing too much about the inside aspects of your specific industry or business. A group of truly independent peers who care about you, whom you trust and who will challenge you will give you a significant advantage in being a great leader and making great decisions.
One peer advisory group member put it this way: “I have grown up surrounded by family who is either in or has served in the armed forces. One of the things I have always been envious of is the ‘no one gets left behind’ motto and brotherhood that exists. You know the guy (or gal) next to you has your back. Participating in [a peer advisory group] has been the closest thing I have ever experienced in my professional life to that sense of support.”
With so much at stake, don’t make another key decision without the support and value of what may be your most powerful tool.
Chuck Alvey serves as chair for the Vistage Group in Reno.