Leadership: Who You Surround Yourself With Matters
Take a minute to ask yourself how often you spend time with people who disagree with your worldview. How often do you step outside your industry sector, or for that matter, inside the minds of leaders within your own business ecosystem to take what William Ury calls “the view from the balcony?” Let’s look at how surrounding yourself with the right people and informing your perspective could be a gamechanger for leading in the future.
In writing The Power of Peers (2016), a book about how and why peer advisory groups for CEOs and business leaders can be so effective, coauthor Leon Shapiro and I opened with a story. Not a business-related anecdote, but one from an Oscar winning film about a jury challenged to determine the guilt or innocence of a teenage boy alleged to have murdered his father. We selected this particular story for three reasons: 1) It was well known; 2) the stakes of the decision were essentially life or death; and, 3) each jury member came from a different walk of life that informed his perspective on the facts. And because of these different perspectives, unreasonable doubt (that would have otherwise eluded any single jury member), was uncovered by the collective as a result of the individual insights they brought to the conversation. The movie was Twelve Angry Men (1957).
Better Managed or Better Prepared?
Fast forward to the 2008 financial crisis, Leon and I talked to a number of CEOs who were members of CEO peer advisory groups (Vistage, YPO, EO, etc.) at the time. They shared their beliefs about why they survived the crisis, as opposed to many of their competitors who did not. To a person, these CEOs believed their companies weathered the storm not because they were better managed, but because they were better prepared. Turns out, having met with other CEOs on a month-to-month basis had its advantages. They took the time to gather additional perspectives from peers outside their industry sector. Together, they identified the early warning signs, shared ideas for how to protect their companies, and committed to helping one another do so. Many groups heeded the mantra that no member’s company would go down on their watch.
A Systems Thinking Approach
I’ve recently become familiar with an organization called Executive Growth Alliance (EGA). Interestingly enough, it operates out of Silicon Valley and Oslo, Norway with plans to expand globally. EGA groups are comprised of peers, who are part of a common ecosystem (transportation, health, etc.), taking a proactive, systems thinking approach to future-readiness. During facilitated Executive Growth Forums, the groups explore opportunities and work together to overcome challenges by understanding all the components and interests inherent in the system. As a collective, EGA group members share perspectives and co-create innovations to prepare themselves, their organizations, and the eco-system as a whole for what’s next.
This systems thinking approach is diametrically opposed to the all too common silo pattern, where each organization (within an ecosystem) independently devises ways to innovate – without talking to those who share and depend on their continuing operations. Margaret Rouse describes systems thinking this way, “Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.”
Sound too idealistic?
The thing is, we already know it works. Trusted dialogue among non-competitive parties with a shared interest in the outcome has been going on for years. In addition to what’s been taking place in CEO peer groups globally for decades along with the early results of what EGA is embarking upon today, these interactions have been happening at Davos (World Economic Forum), and at conferences run by the Aspen Institute and the Milken Institute for quite some time. Two leaders attending a conference, who may hold polar opposite positions on a particular policy issue, find themselves in the same place only to discover common ground through informal dialogue. These initial conversations have often served as catalysts for future meetings that would eventually foster further collaboration – collaboration previously deemed improbable if not impossible.
Leading Today Requires Informed Perspective
Leading effectively in today’s world will require gaining a truly informed perspective. In the film Twelve Angry Men, consider what would have happened, if rather than jump to a verdict, Henry Fonda’s character (Juror #8) didn’t insist that a boy’s life was worth a few minutes of conversation. Think about the CEOs and small business owners who survived the 2008 financial crisis, largely because they got away from their desks long enough to consult with peers who shared a common challenge. Look at the Executive Growth Alliance, which has created a new forum where leaders within an ecosystem utilize systems thinking as a strategy for shaping the future. Gaining informed perspective comes down to surrounding yourself with the right people.
Who you surround yourself with matters. Why? Because we’re all in this together.
Written by Leo Bottary. Have you read?
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