Note: This article was written for. a client in the Executive Peer Group space.
A recent Harvard Business School survey reported that 85% of U.S. companies do not believe there are enough leaders being developed for senior roles currently being vacated by Baby Boomers. And with a majority of the Boomers retiring over the next 5 to 10 years, there’s a huge leadership development gap that executive forums and peer groups are designed to fill. The reason: the right kind of leadership training can provide senior executives with the diverse and wide-ranging skills, knowledge, and mind-set that will be required in the coming decades.
Currently, the majority of senior executives in the workforce received leadership training either when they joined a company or were first promoted as executives but haven’t had any ongoing leadership development training since. As a result, senior executives often get stuck in a vacuum, only thinking within the framework of their role in the current business. A regular executive leadership network forum provides senior leaders a safe haven to receive real unbiased feedback, solid reasoning and strategic thinking support, and sage guidance to common challenges from a diverse, compatible group.
Collectively, a peer group brings together like-minded senior executives to work on tough challenges and achieve high aspirations. Each group offers an astonishing diversity of experience and members are able to leverage the collective wisdom to build on creative ideas and discover innovative solutions. Here’s how it works.
How an Executive Peer Group Works
Who’s in a Senior Executive Peer Group
Typically, executive peer groups have a wide-range of senior leadership talent. Some are senior executives for companies with more than $10 million in revenue that manage teams of five or more. But it’s also common for some members to manage hundreds of employees. And groups are noncompetitive – you’ll never have another person in your group from a similar company or within the same industry. Additionally, groups generally include executives with very diverse functional roles such as operations, business development, marketing, IT, finance, etc.
Conversely, Senior Executive Peer Groups do not include CEOs or presidents because managing-up, in addition to managing laterally, are common responsibilities CEOs and Presidents don’t have. This exclusion allows non-CEOs/Presidents a free and open forum with peers facing similar challenges.
How a Peer Group Works
Executive peer groups generally meet once a month. This consistency and familiarity with each other as relationships develop reinforces the lessons learned, and the depth of advice and support driven professionals and leaders can share. Each meeting is run by a professional Facilitator who facilitates discussions and arbitrates disputes. Meetings are always highly confidential, which gives each member the confidence to be open and honest.
The Facilitator’s Role
Facilitators are tasked with helping the group flourish, while always maintaining the focus of the dialogue. As a rule, Facilitators are highly experienced professionals with years of experience managing groups of senior executives, allowing them to encourage both strategic and tactical thinking as the group explores critical issues. Their role is to guide and moderate frank and honest discussions about extremely complex topics. A good Facilitator stimulates collaboration and helps members develop plans of action, while holding each member accountable for their plans and decisions.
How a Peer Group helps make you a better leader
A Harvard Business Review survey shows almost 50-percent of managers are terrible at accountability.
Accountability is not something competent leaders can do halfway – senior executives and businesses can’t be “kind of accountable,” it requires commitment from the top and adoption throughout the organization. Executive peer groups cultivate accountability that is authentic, consistent and organic because each member, including the Facilitator, is accountable to one another. Having to report to your fellow group members on a routine basis fosters the growth of accountability, which creates an effective environment for prioritizing and executing what is most important to each member.
About 75% of employers rate team work and collaboration as “very important”, yet only 18% of employees get communication evaluations at their performance reviews.
By their very nature, forums are meant to be collaborative. Research shows executive peer groups that are active, social, contextual and engaging lead to deeper insights to improve the leader’s performance. Imagine having 10-12 peers questioning you, supporting you and giving you trusted advice on your toughest issues and biggest decisions – and then holding you accountable for them. An executive leadership peer group is a forum where assumptions are challenged, and blind spots are exposed. With no competitors or other biased relationships, group members provide one another with candid, unbiased feedback that improves professional and personal growth. Members soon realize that no matter how much they contribute to their group, they will always get more in return and, as they do, the group only gets stronger.
Communication & Alignment
The Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor identified communication as the top-ranking attribute for effective leadership. 74% of the respondents viewed it as very important to great leadership – yet only 29% felt leaders communicated effectively.
One challenge many senior executives face is how to improve their communication. Senior executives have to deal with customers. They have to communicate internally with other division heads and leaders within their organization. They have entire teams of subordinates, sometimes hundreds or thousands of them, that they need to communicate with effectively to execute tactical plans. Moreover, they need to communicate with peers from other organizations as well as executives within their own organization. Finally, they also need to report up to the boss in a clear and concise way.
A diverse executive peer group helps develop better communications skills by exposing members to different styles of communicating, in various situations with different personality types. In a peer group of 10-12, executives come together from different industries and have different functional roles, so they can offer real-world advice as to the best way to speak with different stakeholders because they often speak different languages. The result: executives receive valuable feedback about how they communicate and to improve their approach to communication in different situations.
Most senior executives understand the consequences of poor communication; breakdowns can cause massive problems. Senior executives have to talk with everyone; therefore, communication skills are critical to becoming a more effective leader.
A 2013 Harvard Business Review study found 97-percent of a group of 10,000 senior executives said strategic thinking is the most critical leadership skill for an organization’s success.
Stimulated by an experienced group Facilitator, strategic and tactical thinking is a main focus of each executive peer group. Robert Kabacoff, VP of Research at Management Resource Group, says it best, “Strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning. That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what they are trying to accomplish over time and what has to happen now, in six months, in a year, in three years, to get there.
It also means thinking systemically. That is, identifying the impact of their decisions on various segments of the organization–including internal departments, personnel, suppliers, and customers.” The benefit of being a part of a diverse group is understanding how future decisions can affect different parts of the business. As a skill, strategic thinking is all about being able to see, predict, and plan ahead, and an executive peer group gives pre-suite executives a perfect forum to hone in on strategic thinking with collaborative associates.
In executive peer group environments, members can easily recognize constant progress of their leadership skills in a collaborative, positive and predictable way. Receiving sage advice from a diverse group of peers with similar challenges and comparable aspirations to achieve high expectations, allows members to learn and grow from one another.
Senior executive peer group participants soon learn that feedback from trusted peers ultimately makes for a more resilient leader with a better-balanced life – and that’s good for everyone.