There’s an old joke that a camel is a horse designed by committee. As much as we say we value collaboration, the group still gets bad press. In the New York Times, for instance, Susan Cain talks about the “Rise of New Groupthink,” and the dearth of creativity in group conditions. She suggests that the introverts, and solitude produce new ideas and concepts.
But once the new concept is conceived, how do you know if it will work or sell? What problem does it solve? What problems does it create? When you’re right in the middle, it’s hard to achieve the thoughtful consciousness you need to ask yourself these questions. This is where the group comes in.
As leaders, voicing your ideas, problems, and concerns to a group of trusted peers offers perspectives you could not otherwise access. Belonging to a trusted peer group or a board of advisors opens up a variety of benefits:
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Clarification. It’s not uncommon for leaders to say, “My sales manager is not doing his job,” or “I need to fire this person.” Without examining the issue more closely and taking the time to clarify the problem – and possible causes – you might make impulsive decisions that do more harm than good. Your peers can ask insightful questions, helping you define the challenge in more detail and with a level head.
Digging below the surface. Frequently, people deal with surface issues instead of the underlying causes. If I have an employee, for instance, who is exhibiting behaviors that are detrimental to the company or to his/her own success, I can immediately fire that person, or I can coach him on those behaviors. Bottom line, though, is that the situation is never going to change unless I find out what’s causing the behaviors in the first place. Peer groups lead to a better understanding of what’s really going on instead of just skimming the surface.
Different perspectives. Fellow CEOs and executives can ask you questions or broach topics that would otherwise not be asked or stated. You can pose a question to someone from a completely different industry and get a radically different response, an idea or a suggestion that would have never come to light before. Forget “groupthink.” Groups get people out of the box.
Moving from linear to non-linear thinking. This is my problem. This is my solution. Linear thinking works, until it doesn’t. Until it encounters a problem or challenge with twists and turns. Groups move you from that type of mindset to one in which you can take a leap, go beyond where you are, and look at your challenge, your organization, and your leadership style through a completely different lens.
I teach the CEOs I coach to run their own meetings as if they were Vistage meetings. One rule is that we can’t give advice to someone who is struggling until after we have asked enough questions, and we all have a full understanding of the situation. After we have clarified the issue, dug down as deeply as we could, and enlightened ourselves and the person with the challenge, only then can we offer advice. Now, we’re getting somewhere: now we’re giving advice on the real problem, not the symptoms.
Never underestimate the power of a group. You could drill 100 wells one-foot deep and never hit water. Or you could drill one well 100 feet deep and strike. With a peer group, you have all of those extra hands – and minds – working to drill down and get to the underlying issue, and the best possible solutions.