Imagine for a moment being the CEO. It’s your responsibility to make good decisions that are best for the company as a whole. While you may have a terrific senior management team and a highly engaged board of directors, the people giving you advice also have a personal stake in the outcome. Also, when CEOs are suffering from personal problems, the effect of support from family and friends is 53% to 79% weaker than support from fellow CEOs in restoring the leaders' overall effectiveness, say Michael L. McDonald of the University of Texas and James D. Westphal of the University of Michigan. Personal problems such as conflict with children or marital issues hurt CEOs' effectiveness because they prompt the chief executives to pull back on important interpersonal behaviors involving subordinate managers, the researchers say. As a CEO, I’m not suggesting you don’t listen to your senior people or your board, who are in most cases (hopefully) sincerely offering their best input and counsel, but it begs this question: Would a CEO also benefit from being asked tough questions and receiving counsel from fellow CEOs, who have no personal vested interest in the outcome? As you may have guessed, Vistage member CEOs have been answering yes to this question since 1957. Here are five benefits (among others of course), a CEO will realize by regularly engaging with a group of his/her peers:
1) Empathy – If you’ve never been a CEO, it’s nearly impossible to put yourself in a CEO’s shoes. It’s difficult for most of us, regardless of how much we care or how objective we believe we are in offering counsel to our CEOs, to imagine what that’s really like. Fellow CEOs aren’t looking through the lens of marketing, finance, or HR, they’re looking at the whole picture because it’s what they do every day. The empathy that one CEO shares with another is a priceless benefit of the CEO peer advisory experience. Its impact is not only felt professionally, but personally as well.
2) Objectivity – An employee or board member, regardless of their espoused objectivity and true sincerity, has a personal stake in the outcome. Fellow CEOs from non-competing businesses are not burdened with that extra layer of consideration. They can ask the hard questions without regard for sacred cows, personal relationships or other organizational/industry blinders. It’s an eye opening experience for many CEOs when peers looks at a specific challenge through a completely impartial lens.
3) Shared Challenges – While the CEOs in the peer group may serve entirely different types of customers in widely varying industries, they share common challenges regarding employees, growth, profitability, executive development, technology, and uncertainty, just to name a few. The more they talk, the more they realize how much they have in common and how much they can learn from on another.
4) Learning – While they have shared challenges, the myriad industries they represent set the table for rich conversations about common practices in one sector that are often quite different from practices in another sector. Sharing ideas across industries help CEOs learn from one another. What’s more, these CEOs will also share their personal triumphs and failures. This display of trust creates an environment where the CEO can be truly vulnerable to learn and grow. And unlike one-to-one executive coaching, which can be a rich complement to the peer advisory experience, there’s nothing quite like the power of the group dynamic.
5) Accountability – As CEOs share their challenges and aspirations with their peers, being CEOs as they are, they tend to be serious about holding their peers accountable to make the tough choices and to deliver on their stated courses of action. As I’ve heard from so many Vistage Chairs and members, this atmosphere of shared accountability may be the most powerful dynamic of all when it comes to the peer advisory experience.
By Leo Bottary