About 20 years ago, I was in the midst of a business crisis. This tended to be a monthly occurrence, but this time, the situation was truly dire. I visited with Mike Dunham, founder of Effective Management Systems – EMS, a developer of ERP and CRM systems, today known as WorkWise/OnContact. I described my problem to Mike. He asked some great questions and helped me gain insight into what to do. Near our lunch’s end, I asked: “How much do you tell your wife about problems at work?” “Nothing,” he said. “Really?” He replied: “In the beginning, I used to tell her everything. But I realized what I was sharing was mostly problems and bad news. And without her being deeply involved in the business, she could never have the context of the real issue, and it just served to stress us both out and make her worry.” “So – then who do you talk to about problems at work?” I asked. “Well,” Mike said, “If you want a friend, get a dog. But if you want advice, get a Board.”
So as a TEC/Vistage Chair I am often asked if a TEC group is the same experience or can substitute for a Board. My tongue-in-cheek answer to this is, “Oh no, they are the complete opposite. In a TEC/Vistage group (in effect, a Peer Group), you need to be open, honest, and vulnerable. God help you if you are ever vulnerable in front of your Board!” Yet, I do believe Peer Groups and Boards are equally valuable, but they serve very different purposes.
TEC Groups/Peer Groups:
Although I am a TEC/Vistage Chair and I really believe in our unique process, there are other good options for Peer Groups. YPO (Young Presidents Organization) has Forums. Most Chambers of Commerce have Roundtable programs. And there are plenty of role-specific Peer Groups such as our Allied CFO or HR Roundtable programs. And remember, if you are the CEO, members of your team need a Peer Group too.
To be a successful member and to receive and give Peer Group value, you need three things:
- A commitment to confidentiality (MOST important!).
- The understanding you are not the smartest person in the room; in other words – the willingness to listen.
- The desire to know members of your Peer Group at a deeper level, both in and outside of the meeting day.
I asked a local expert, Rand McNally, for his best advice on forming Boards for private companies. He offered these thoughts:
- Select your Board members carefully. Do not necessarily choose friends. Find individuals who are willing to give you unfiltered advice and counsel. Create a skills matrix to fill in gaps that may exist in your organization. And remember, Board members are like aged beef—you get what you pay for.
- Advisory Boards are appropriate for private companies. But hold the Board to a fiduciary standard, including being fully prepared for Board meetings. Board members should be willing to put in extra time and effort as needed for committees, crisis situations, or incapacitation of the leader.
- Businesses with independent and experienced Board members grow faster and are more profitable. These types of well-composed Boards help minimize risk.
We all know it’s lonely at the top. (Note, it’s even lonelier at the bottom.) No CEO can do it alone and shouldn’t try. So, my advice: JOIN a Peer Group, FORM a Board, and GET a dog. We all need friends too!