Who You Surround Yourself With Matters

Article by Leo Bottary from Ceoworld Magazine

These days, the phrase “who you surround yourself with matters” takes on a whole new meaning. The coronavirus is especially insidious because we’re challenged to battle something we can’t see. Any one of us could have it and be asymptomatic and, as a result, would have no idea that we’re spreading it to others. Among many trips on my calendar, the first one I cancelled was a trip to visit my father-in-law’s home to celebrate his 90th birthday next month. My wife and I had been looking forward to that trip for months yet going there now with the very real prospect that we could put both her highly at-risk parents at further risk is unthinkable.

Until we can test everyone, everything is compromised (personally and professionally), and worse yet, we don’t know exactly how long this is going to last. As CEOs and leaders who are members of mastermind (or peer advisory) groups, times like these call for the range of perspectives and experiences of your fellow group members more than ever – even if you can’t meet face to face.

Although face-to-face meetings and travel are off my calendar for now, I’ve spent the last several days speaking to mastermind group members and group leaders, reminding them of the countless stories I’ve heard from CEOs and business leaders in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. To a person, CEO after CEO told me that if it wasn’t for their group, they would never have survived it nor been able to build a proper launching pad for future success.

Three Reasons 

If you’re a member of a mastermind group, here are three reasons for doing everything you can to engage with your group:

  1. You need diverse perspectives from other CEOs now more than ever.  How are you operating if you’ve had to close your store(s)? How are you communicating with your employees? What are you doing to keep them safe? What steps have you taken to protect the enterprise so that there is a job for your people to come back to? These are among the hundreds of challenges CEOs are wrestling with. Talking with other CEOs who are grappling with these same issues and exchanging ideas that can uncover creative solutions can be the difference between making it and not.
  2. It’s a perfect time to strengthen your group.  There is nothing that brings a group together quite like prevailing through adversity. By using the framework of the 5 Factors for High Performing Peer Groups, you can: 1) Get a better handle on what it means to have the right people in the room who exhibit the strength of character and behaviors that will make them better members going forward; 2) Increase everyone’s sense of psychological safety in a manner that serves you and the group today, as well as in the future; 3) Advance group productivity by recognizing that there’s never been a time when it’s more important to be effective and efficient with your collective dialogue and, as a result, create new habits for maximizing the value of your time; 4) Strengthen your culture of accountability by looking one another in the eye (even if it’s on a Zoom or WebEx call) and declaring to one another that no one will succumb to this crisis on the group’s watch; and 5) Improve upon your status as a contributing group member, which in turn will translate to your being an even more respected CEO at your organization.
  3. It’s an opportune time to strengthen your team back at your company.  Using the same 5 Factor Framework: 1) You may be in a position where you have fewer people challenged to do even more under highly stressful circumstances. It will shine a light on the employee characteristics you appreciate most and guide you in the future as you eventually add to your team; 2) This is a time where you can improve employee psychological safety by calling upon your people to be creative as to how they can add value. Invite them to speak up, speak out, and test new ideas that they can share with others; 3) Uncertainty and lack of mobility can challenge us to find new ways of working that can keep the company productive today and be implemented to enhance it in the future; 4) Consider your mission much like the team at NASA during the flight of Apollo 13. Under the gravest of circumstances, every member of the team bought into the mantra that failure was not an option; and, 5) For you as the CEO, there’s never been a more important time for you to let the talent on your team shine and to support them as a servant leader.  The way you balance challenging them, supporting them and caring for them during this period will likely forever define the quality of your leadership.

Communication and History 

If there’s one subject that has come up most often during my conversations with CEOs and business leaders in recent weeks, it’s been about employee communications during this crisis. From these talks, the prevailing sentiment has been as follows: 1) Be transparent.  2) Communicate frequently. Don’t disappear even if you don’t have anything substantive to say. Show you care. 3) Relate to your employees as people first and employees second. In addition to their professional challenges, they are likely dealing with personal ones as well. Think of authentic, personal ways to demonstrate that you care about their lives.

Finally, history tells us that if you’re a member of a mastermind group, then this is precisely the time to lean-in to it, not away from it. Time and money may be tight right now, but your group is the closest thing you’ll find to a vaccine for your business.  Take advantage.  If you’re not part of a mastermind group, find one.  If you’re not inclined to join one at this time, reach out to people you trust with whom you can share your challenges and opportunities and who can share theirs with you. Don’t try to go it alone. The complexity and uncertainty of what’s ahead is too daunting and there are just too many people depending on you. Remember, who you surround yourself with matters.

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