I spotted this quote by Robert Rowland Smith in the Sunday Times magazine last weekend:
You want to succeed, so what’s stopping you?
Some people feel they don’t deserve it; others just don’t think they’re the successful type; a few hold themselves back because they believe that equality should prevail. There’s also a deeper fact. To succeed is to stand apart from others, and that can be lonely.
Coincidentally in the Appointments section of the same newspaper there was an article on how peer groups can give bosses a way to reduce the loneliness of making hard decisions. In these groups, participants (from various industries) speak frankly about their problems and learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Obviously suppliers and competitors are not allowed to attend to ensure a confidential environment.
Senior management is a lonely place…Having a group of people with whom you have built a rapport and who are able to give you a different perspective, or who can just support your thinking…is something you won’t get in your own business, either because people are all in the trenches or aligned with the same problems. Getting a fresh pair of eyes gives you new ideas.
Importantly, the interactions can be quite trenchant – if someone thinks you’re doing the wrong thing, they’re allowed to say so. I would imagine this would be very natural anyway with the type of personalities involved. Another benefit is that:
Giving advice can be as useful as receiving feedback. It helps people to think about an issue broadly and to crystallise their own ideas.
The article says that the usual format is a half-day workshop on a specific topic, followed by a round-table session where members ask for advice on difficult problems.
Various colleagues of mine in startups are members of similar groups but their experience has been variable. It should be a good idea but I guess it all depends on how open you really want to be, how candid others are and how much you trust their advice! It’s interesting to speculate on whether some of the business issues they’ve encountered would have been avoided if the peer groups had jelled a bit better.
So the key factors seem to be getting the right collection of individuals in the first place (although this is partly a matter of luck) and then in wisely facilitating ‘fierce conversations‘ between them so that something different and useful comes out on a regular basis.