The Power of Peers: A book review by Bob Morris

Power of PeersThe Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth, and Success
Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary
Bibliomotion (2016)

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2 (Act III, Scene 1)

Results of the most recent research in child psychology suggest that peers rather than parents have the greatest influence on most children by the time they are in second or third grade. (Opinions are somewhat divided about when but that seems to be the consensus.) Other influences include older siblings, authority figures, celebrities (especially entertainers), and various social media.

It is important to keep that in mind when working your way through the material that Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary provide in this book. It helps to explain why so many C-level executives derive substantial benefit from membership in a peer advisory group such as Vistage. Peers seem to be very influential throughout one’s lifetime.

Some business leaders (many who are also owner/CEOs of small companies) have created their own informal advisory groups that usually consist of their company’s banker or major investor, attorney, accountant, and one or two owner/CEOs of companies with which they neither compete nor do business. Members of these groups have no fiduciary responsibilities, usually meet quarterly or semi-annually, and meanwhile are available to provide one-on-one assistance whenever it is requested.

In the superb Foreword to The Power of Peers, Rich Kalgaard observes: “To be the CEO of a small or midsize company is brutally hard. Lonely, too. Honest and empathetic advice is hard for CEOs to come by. Who does one talk to? Is it fair to burden the family? Dare one show doubt or vulnerability in front of employees, investors, or the board? Sure, one might confide difficulties to a therapist or coach, but what if the therapist or coach knows little about the specifics of the CEO’s business? Trusted CEO peer groups are the perfect answer to these solitary challenges and awesome responsibilities borne by men and woman at the top.” The Power of Peers by Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary shows how to do this. It is the right book at the right time for CEOs today.”

It is noteworthy that Kalgaard is the publisher of Forbes magazine and author of two books destined to become business classics: The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success (Jossey-Bass 2014) and Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (HarperBusiness 2015). I hold his insights and counsel in very high regard.

Personal digression: Over the past two decades, it has been my pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with hundreds of small-to-midsize companies, retained as a consultant, and also chaired two peer groups (in Dallas and Arlington, Texas) for more than a decade within The Technical Committee (TEC) organization, founded by Bob Nourse in Milwaukee in 1957. Last I heard, TEC remains active only in Wisconsin and Michigan. I can personally attest to the unique value of a CEO peer advisory group if (HUGE “if”) it has crisp as well as cordial leadership and actively engaged members who are eager to receive help but also to help others.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Shapiro and Bottary’s coverage:

o Goals for “communities of practice” (Pages 8-9, 32-36, 40-41, and 57-58
o Optimizing business opportunities (11-12, 37-39, 88-92, 129-130, and 138-141)
o Learning (19-20, 42-43, 54-55, 84-85, and 111-112)
o Culture of emotional support (20-21, 55-56, 98-99, 107-109, 111-112. and 119-121)
o Trust (21-22, 70-72, 125-126, 147-148, and 151-152)
o Young Presidents’ Organization (34-35, 57-58, and 65-66)
o Five factors for successful peer groups (44-45)
o Nourishing a safe environment (61-62)
o Smart guides (73-86)
o Conversations between and among members (78-79 and 138-140)
o Fostering valuable interaction (87-89)
o Accountability: Individual and Organizational (101-114)
o Diverse perspectives (131-144)

Understandably, Shapiro and Bottary draw upon their association with the Vistage organization which rebranded TEC in 2006. This wide and deep first-hand experience with peer advisory relationships gives credibility to their insights and counsel. Membership in a group such as Vistage is best considered in terms of cost (i.e. hours and dollars) and value (i.e. the ROI of cost). As with most (if not all) other human initiatives, the nature and extent of the benefits (i.e. ROI) will be determined by how much knowledge and wisdom the member is willing to (a) obtain from the group’s chair and other members and then (b) apply it effectively in her or his own company. Stated bluntly, you get about as much from membership as you put into it.

Also consider the wisdom of this Chinese proverb: “If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap. If you want happiness for a day – go fishing. If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a life time – help someone else.”

When concluding their book, Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary suggest that a peer advisory group “is one of the most powerful, proven, and efficient leadership tools for enhancing the value of your business and your life. A diverse group of your peers will help you identify your blind spots, challenge your assumptions, and provide you with the kind of insights you’ll need to succeed and thrive.” I agree while noting, as indicated, that such a group is not for everyone. Those who read this book with appropriate care will be well-prepared to make that determination.

One final thought, expressed in an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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