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A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 8) #5010 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 8) #5010

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 8) #5010 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE

Chapter 8 is “Be Accountable.”

The chapter begins with a story of Pete, a cofounder and CEO of InstaViser and also a member of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic U.S. Men’s eight rowing team. He knows about winning and accountability. In his sport the team members are literally in the same boat.

Pete told the authors about the 2000 Olympics. The team was undefeated during the Olympic cycle leading up to the games. They were heavy favorites to win the gold, but they finished 5th. No medal at all. Some members of the team would be too old to compete in 2004. It was a dreadful experience for them.

Looking ahead to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, some of the athletes decided not to compete. Some were married and had kids. Others wanted to avoid going through another four years with the possibility of repeating an awful experience. Pete said a few of them decided to stick with it though. They knew they needed to band together in order to be leaders for the upcoming team members. Three members of the 2000 team competed in the eights in 2004. During the months leading up to the games there was a lot of peer accountability among the three veterans. The younger members grew to rely on the leadership provided by the three, who would rotate leadership based solely on the organic need. They didn’t structure anything. They just did what needed to be done.

The veterans were on a mission to make sure they didn’t repeat the mistakes of Sydney. The goal was to win gold. In 2004 the U.S. men’s eight won gold decisively largely because they had embraced a culture of accountability.

What does accountability really mean?

It means different things to different people. There’s an emotional component of how people feel when being held accountable.

In early Greek civilization citizens would cast a vote by stepping on a stone; that’s how they’d account for themselves and demonstrate where they stood. Accountability doesn’t tend to be a favorite word because somewhere along the way it got a bad rap. People can think of it as punishment or mean spirited.

The authors discovered some things when they looked at the education system in Finland. Ranking among the very top in the world in reading, science and math, Finland’s education system emphasizes investment in professional development of teachers. The country spends very little money or time on measuring learning outcomes through standardized testing. They’ve created a culture where teachers accept responsibility for teaching their students. And they’re given the freedom to do it based on the needs of the individual school and students.

There is no word for accountability in the Finnish language. Instead, accountability has been described as “something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” So it appears to have such a negative connotation that the language lacks any word to really describe it.

One CEO in a peer advisory group said this about accountability to his fellow members:

Do you realize that this is one of the few places where we can go to get support that comes across as unconditional love, unvarnished, with no other strings attached? There are few places where we can go in life where somebody doesn’t have an agenda, doesn’t want something from us. This is one of the few places where we can show up and hold one another accountable to keep that level of behavior in front of us at all times.

What CEO needs more accountability?

The authors say they have talked with enough CEOs through the years who declare they already have enough people to whom they feel accountable professionally. But, as the authors point out, there is an accountability dilemma. Former Vistage CEO Rafael Pastor created a CEO accountability model where the CEO is at the center. On top is the board. To one side are peers. To the other side are customers. Below are employees.

Rafael says CEOs are already being held accountable up, down and sideways. He calls that upward accountability, to the board or shareholders, as ENFORCED accountability. Goals and objectives are set for the CEO by those folks.

Employees hold the CEO accountable and he calls that EXPECTANT accountability based on what each group (employees, contractors, etc.) expect.

All CEOs have customers to whom they’re accountable. Rafael calls them ELUSIVE accountability because customers are fickle so you’d better be sharp and give them what they want.

These 3 types of accountability are imposed on the CEO. That’s why some CEOs may resist adding still more accountability to their lives. But that brings us to what Rafael calls the 4th type of accountability, EMPATHETIC. That’s the accountability provided by peers. It’s the type that is missing because it’s completely voluntary. The other types of accountability are imposed.

Because peer accountability is voluntary it stands apart from the others. It helps CEOs deliver more effectively on the other three types. That’s why top performing CEOs don’t mind volunteering to add another dimension of accountability to the mix.

A professional peer advisory group acts like a lab for personal and professional growth. Rafael noted, “Look, this is a place where you ought to try out as much stuff as you can and it is totally okay to fail; better to fail in here before you show up to the board.”

Shapiro and Bottary, coauthors of the book, cite an example of a CEO who was encouraged to give a board presentation to her peer group first. She rejected the idea at first, but finally agreed. It was an ambition presentation she was going to deliver to her board requiring a $55 million investment to build a container center at the port.

She delivered the presentation to her peer group. They tore it to pieces. It was aggressive and impersonal. With her permission they offered suggestions on improving it. She was taken aback, but grateful.

At the next meeting she reported that her board told her it was the best presentation they’d seen. When they asked her how she did it, she credited her peer advisory group. She trusted their judgment, made the necessary changes and delivered a successful presentation. Just one example of the power of peers.

When accountability gets personal

Walter and Debbie are architects. And married to each other. They started their business shortly after marrying. It began in a closet in the bedroom of their first home. Today, it’s a $30 million company. Walter has been a member of a professional peer advisory group for 8 years. During that time his group has seen him raise 3 daughters and grow his business.

The conversations have touched every area of his life. During one meeting he revealed that he’d done little to set up trusts for his three daughters, or to get his financial affairs in order. What if something happened to him? Or his wife, Debbie? What if something happened to them both?

Debbie always wanted to handle it, but Walter would drag his feet. But when Walter brought this up to his group, he agreed to follow their advice and get right on it. As the group continued to meet, Walter pushed it off claiming one excuse or another. The group was relentless though. They continued to raise the issue with him at every single meeting for nearly a year. Toward the end of the year they’d sent Walter emails saying they were going to bring tar and feathers to the next meeting if he refused to take the action he promised. They didn’t let him off the hook. Finally, he got his affairs in order, shared it with the group and they broke out in jubilant celebration.

A culture of accountability

Many CEOs and business owners can relate to Walter and the temptation to delay or put off certain things. We’ve all done it. Many times we put it off and put it off, then finally we do it only to wonder, “Why didn’t I do that a long time ago?”

This chapter cites the research of three experts who say there are 15 key reasons people put things off:

  1. Ignorance: “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that.”
  2. Skill deficiency: “I don’t know how to do it.”
  3. Apathy (1): “I really don’t want to do this.”
  4. Apathy (2): “It really doesn’t make any difference if I put this off.”
  5. Apathy (3): “No one really cares whether I do this or not.”
  6. Apathy (4): “I need to be in the mood. I’m not.”
  7. Fixed habits (1): “But I’ve always done it this way and it’s hard to change.”
  8. Fixed habits (2): “I know I can pull this out at the last minute.”
  9. Fixed habits (3): “I work better under pressure.”
  10. Inertia: “I just can’t seem to get started.”
  11. Frail memory: “I just forgot.”
  12. Physical problems: “I couldn’t do it; I was sick.”
  13. Appropriate delays (1): “I’m just waiting for the best time to do it.”
  14. Appropriate delays (2): “I need time to think this through.”
  15. Appropriate delays (3): ” This other opportunity will never come again, so I can’t pass it up.”

In many cases, CEOs will delegate tasks they find uncomfortable, unpleasant or boring. In other situations though, when CEOs have to complete certain chores themselves, they can find the same reasons to procrastinate that everybody else does. Professional peer advisory groups can play a big role in helping CEOs take ownership and responsibility for getting the task completed.

Go back to Walter’s story. There were 2 aspects of his story that are important. One, the group truly cared about Walter and his family. He told the group it was important to him. That’s why it was important to the group that he follow through. Two, while it’s unusual that something that important would take a year to accomplish, it shows that the culture of accountability requires more than a single follow-up. When the task was completed, the entire group rejoiced, proving to Walter that they were all on his side.

Making accountability a positive

Leaders can find it difficult to hold people accountable. Some of us sound like accusers because we’ve not been taught how to make accountability a positive. Instead, it often starts off with an accusation, “Why haven’t you done this?”

We’ve all learned that what gets measured gets done. What gets rewarded gets done better. But the intent of the tracking or measurement can make all the difference. For too many employees it feels like a stick and no carrot.

The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual And Organizational Accountability by Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman define accountability as “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results: to see it, own it, solve it, and do it.” The authors who an above the line and a below line metaphor.

Below the line thinking and behavior is victim thinking. Above the line is accountability.

Steps to accountability or above the line behavior include these four actions:

  1. See it. Recognize and acknowledge the full reality of the situation.
  2. Own it. Accept full responsibility for your contribution to the current experience.
  3. Solve it. Change the current reality by identifying and implementing solutions to your problem while being conscious of “below the line” behaviors if challenges present themselves.
  4. Do it. Fully commit to follow through with the solutions identified, especially when there is great risk in doing so.

Now, contrast that with victim thinking, or below the line behaviors:

  1. The ignore and deny stage: where you pretend there is no problem.
  2. The it’s not my job stage: when you’re aware there’s a problem, but you avoid involvement.
  3. The finger pointing stage: when you deny responsibility for bad results and shift the blame.
  4. The confusion/tell me what to do stage: when you avoid responsibility by claiming confusion.
  5. The cover your tail stage: when you create stories about why you’re not responsible and show not be blamed.
  6. The wait and see stage: when you know there’s a problem that requires action and you choose to not act in hope things will magically improve.

Greg Bustin, author of the book Accountability: The Key To Driving A High-Performance Culture, identified 7 pillars upon which you can build a culture of accountability:

  1. Character
  2. Unity
  3. Learning
  4. Tracking
  5. Urgency
  6. Reputation
  7. Evolving

Accountability starts with the character of the person. Then it’s about making sure the bonds created among group members are strong, but don’t interfere with a member’s responsibility. Social interactions are wonderful, but at the end of the day you’re there as a peer to give feedback.

Being open to learn is another component. Members have to be coachable, willing and eager to learn and improve.

Urgency is more about focus than speed. It’s about priorities, putting first things first.

Reputation is what you earn when you display strong character over time.

Greg offers a quote he once read about Babe Ruth. “Yesterday’s runs don’t win today’s games.” That’s what evolving is all about. It’s about getting better.


Over time member in a professional peer advisory group will come and go for a variety of reasons. But it’s important for the group to grow. The culture and experience of the group accumulates leaving a legacy. Many professional peer groups have a 3 month lead time for departures for that very reason. Members need time to say good-bye and thank you. We need time to seize the opportunities of leaving a legacy in our quest to get better.


Peer influence is individual. Peer advantage is a group endeavor powered by greater selectivity, targeted strategies for achieving goals and structured engagement that inspires lasting results.

That’s precisely the objective of THE PEER ADVANTAGE by Bula Network. I’m currently accepting applications for membership in two groups of 7 SMB owners from around the United States. Each group will meet online via a video conferencing platform, making it easy and convenient for members to attend. We’ll meet for 2 hours twice a month. One group will meet in the morning and the other will meet in the afternoon. Members will join one group or the other. You can visit for more details and to complete the application. I hope you’ll do it today.

The next time we’ll dive into Part 3 of the book – Leading With Peer Advantage – when we tackle chapter 9, “The Advantage Of Individual Growth.”

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A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 7) #5009

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 7) #5009

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 7) #5009

Chapter 7 is entitled, “Foster Valuable Interaction.”

The book has already chronicled some stories of CEOs and business owners sharing their story with a peer group. In each case, the group provided support and encouragement. Members of a peer advisory group must believe that sharing their issues – sharing their story – will result in a positive outcome. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how safe or confidential the setting may be, they’re not likely to open up to the group.

Sometimes sharing our story is simply about engaging in dialogue with others with no expectation of reaching a decision. We just need to be heard. That’s a positive outcome.

Still sometimes we want a fresh perspective and guidance. We want to make a great decision and the feedback from others can help us achieve that positive outcome.

Defining valuable interaction

The authors define this in terms of a conversation where all participants are engaged. Everybody understands what’s being discussed, and are prepared to ask insightful questions that inspire focus and clarity for everybody. Everybody learns something valuable because they’re all involved in the conversation.

Skilled discussion

These are defined as a way of talking that leads to decisions. A skilled discussion is aimed at looking at a situation to separate good ideas from bad ones in hopes of letting the best ideas bubble to the top. If a discussion lacks a process, or the discipline, it can devolve into members just tossing out ideas, sharing thoughts and trying to sell their ideas. Effective peer advantage is found when members engage in some rigorous thinking with mutual respect so all the options can be weighed.

As you might imagine, these discussions don’t happen by accident. There is a process that will help optimize. Some real-life examples to help us do that come from the Blue Angels and the Navy Seals. They give us a framework for skilled discussions that can used by CEOs or business owners worldwide.

Blue Angels post-flight debrief

Everybody is equal in the debrief. That creates a safe environment for honest conversation. Rank, age and experience are non-factors during the debrief. Everybody is encouraged to be as candid as possible. People’s lives depend on it.

The pilots take turns talking about what they did well and they identify specific mistakes they made during the flight. They call those mistakes “safeties.” That means they’re safety problems or violations. Each pilot identifies their own safeties, but they also commit to the entire squadron that those errors will be fixed the next time they fly. Each pilot concludes his remarks by saying, “Glad to be here.” That tradition refers to their gratitude for being a member of the Blue Angels. They know other pilots are deployed around the world serving our country, making it possible for them to be part of an elite flying team.

After each pilot takes a turn, he gets critiques from two members of the team who are assigned to specifically observe and assess the flight from the ground. They share their perspective. Reviewing video of the flight, they watch and rewatch specific maneuvers to get a complete picture of the performance. The goal is to improve the performance for next time.

Other members offer the team their observations about the non-flight parts of the performance. These include things like the pilot’s salute and his march to and from the aircraft. This debriefing process is simple, but it ensures that every detail of the performance is covered.

Today, former Blue Angel pilot John Foley works with companies on continuous improvement. He uses the principles he learned while flying with the elite team. Foley says that what separates the Blue Angels from other great teams is the unique combination of attitude, habits, and worldview. Here’s how he summarized the difference:

The Blue Angels share a mindset, a special way of looking at the world and seeing the potential for success that is often hidden behind the obstacles and difficulties of daily life.

The Blue Angels create a culture of excellence that surrounds, supports and nourishes them.

The Blue Angels transcend expectations; they continually improve, innovate, and seek higher levels of performance. 

Foley says the biggest excuse companies make for not employing a debrief is that it takes too much time. He believes if it would become a habit though, it would actually save time because it would prevent people from repeatedly making the same mistake. Sort of reminds me of that phrase, “If you don’t have time to do it right, then when will you have the time to do it over?”

Navy Seals’ after-action reviews

Former Navy Seal Brandon Andrews goes around the country sharing the principles and practices of the Navy Seals with business leaders. For Seals there are two kinds of “after actions.” Informal and formal. Informal reviews are largely to critique individual training runs and formal reviews are reserved for larger training exercises or important missions. The formal reviews involve the larger leadership team and are documented for the benefit of future platoons.

The informal review is structured around 3 basic questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go well?
  3. What’s going to be done to get it fixed for the next time?

After-actions are happening constantly for the Seals. It happens thousands of times because the teams may do 40 – 50 runs a day and the reviews happens each one. The team gathers quickly to review without the need for any write-ups. It’s just a constant focus on continuous improvement.

The leader of the informal review helps navigate the conversation to answer those 3 important questions. Usually, the leader sets the example by giving his perspective and critiquing himself. The mission and the team come first. By humbling himself in front of the men, everybody feels more comfortable to make sure nothing gets left unsaid.

The philosophy of these sessions is powerful. “Let’s all take note of it so no one else makes that mistake, and we don’t have to worry about that ever again.”

The formal after-action reviews are directed by the leader with the most situational awareness of the mission or training run. That person creates a detailed, often chronological agenda based on the nature of the mission or training. It may include a slide deck and other training aids. These sessions are formal because there’s a larger leadership presence in the group. The entire session is documented and plugged into a computer system where it’s available to anybody in the military. That’s so the learning can be shared as widely as possible.

Both the Blue Angels and the Navy Seals understand the power of optimizing these conversations. They devote the time to it because it’s invaluable to their work, and the work of others who can benefit from what they’re learning. Imagine a resource in your company where employees could benefit from the lessons learned by the employees who came before them.

Issue processing for CEOs

The authors review a process that’s been around since the 1950’s. It grew more popular in peer advisory groups in the 1970’s. It’s commonplace today.

CEOs or owners who bring a specific challenge to the group benefit from a formal process that guides the conversation. It’s a realtime case study as opposed to something historical. Too often the initial question addresses a symptom instead of the real challenge. The protocol goes like this…

  1. The issue is framed in a question that begins with the phrase, “How do I ________?”
  2. The group then asks clarifying questions
  3. The issue is then restated to make sure it’s accurate
  4. The issue is then reframed, if necessary, using the same “How do I ________?” question.
  5. Suggestions are offered
  6. Action is promised with a due date

It focuses on the person with the issue. The clarifying questions are asked without judgment or suggestion. Rather, they’re asked to seek deeper understanding of the issue. Sometimes the best question isn’t a question at all, but a request. “Tell me more about that.”

The objective is to get to the root of the issue to make sure the stated issue is THE real issue, not some other hidden one. Sometimes members find they’re asking the wrong question. That knowledge or awareness changes everything. It’s the power of deeper, more structured conversations. The authors cite some examples of this in the book. It’s enlightening when leaders discover how to more accurately view the issue. It’s a bit like trying to fix a problem that isn’t really the problem. Instead of putting a bandage on it the group seeks to find a more permanent remedy for the ailment.

As this chapter points out, the benefit isn’t merely to the person with the issue. The entire rooms benefits as members work through any single issue. Learning how to have these conversations engages members in learning how to approach issues. The shared conversation helps each member distill something they can use and apply to their own lives and businesses. Members may end the conversation with some statement of thanks, similar to the Blue Angels ending with “Glad to be here.”

At the conclusion the person with the issue decides for himself what action he’ll take. His intentions are noted and they’ll be revisited at the next meeting so a culture of accountability can be established and maintained. We’ll look at that in the next chapter, chapter 8

Variations on a theme

The issue processing protocol is a framework designed to slow people down to accurately think about what they don’t know and what they might need to know before making a decision. There are variations on how this can be done.

One is the fishbowl. This involves starting the conversation with a member and a small number of people inside the circle (the fishbowl) while the other members remain outside the bowl to listen and observe so they can gather data. After a time, those outside the bowl switch places with those inside. Often times the questions get better using this process. It also gives the person with the issue the opportunity to engage with a smaller group of folks in stages rather than working with the whole group at once.

Another approach is the fly on the wall. After clarifying questions have been asked and answered the member backs away from the conversation and sits silently to listen. The rest of the members engage in a no-holes-barred conversation about the issue and what’s really happening. No matter the comments, the member with the issue understands that this level of honest feedback is supremely rare. They also understand it comes from a place of real care and concern for the member’s welfare. After 20 minutes or so, the person with the issue rejoins the conversation. It provides a powerful way of helping the member look at some aspects of the situation that she may not have confronted during earlier meetings.

A third method involves dividing the group into different perspectives. This works well with larger groups. The group may be divided into 3 subgroups with each group tackling one aspect of the issue from a particular perspective. The groups gather independently from one another. The member with the issue doesn’t engage in the conversation but rather roams from room to room listening and observing. After a period of time, the entire group rejoins and each subgroup share their perspective. That way the entire group may have covered the issue from three different perspectives (for example, company, individual and family).

No matter what issue has been processed and no matter who brought it forth, sometimes the smart guide will end by asking the people in the group, “Okay, if you were the one who had to solve this problem, what recommendations would you give yourself?”

The four dimensions

When you combine emotional safety and confidentiality with an intellectual process designed to get at the heart of the issue and elicit honest advice from different perspectives, you create collegiality and a bond that enriches the total experience.*

*People sometimes ask me if I’m selling a product or service. In spite of the fact that I love selling and think it’s honorable, I’m really not selling anything. I’m inviting people to an experience! The experience is to become the member of a group unlike anything most people have ever experienced or had before – a group of their peers – people pursuing what they’re pursuing, business success as an owner. A group that will support, encourage and help them without reservation or expectation. A group that will provide the experience because that’s the entire purpose for their existence! To help each other grow and accelerate that growth, professionally and personally. A group where every single member has skin in the game and a full commitment to give as much and get as much as possible from the experience. That’s what THE PEER ADVANTAGE by Bula Network is all about. Visit to learn more and apply today. 

The four dimensions are intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual. The authors quote Cecelia Wooden of the Hay Group who commented about the power of CEO peer advisory.

There’s certainly the intellectual dimension that is augmented by a group of smart people sharing different experiences and perspectives. The emotional dimension comes from feeling safe to be vulnerable. The camaraderie creates the social dimension, which I believe adds to a person’s multidimensionality. Finally, I would suggest that there’s a certain spirituality that occurs as a result of fully actualizing your peers, being able to not only emotionally connect with them, but also to have your core values expanded. I regard this as more spiritual than emotional. I’m not talking about religiosity, but spirituality. What is the spirit within me that has grown as a result of those core values, and how can I understand that spirit more? That’s even deeper than the emotional bonds that so often occur in such a group. The degree to which you can learn to look at yourself and your core values through a lens of others, and open yourself to whatever you believe, is amazingly powerful.

Next time we’ll dive into chapter 8, Be Accountable.

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A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 6) #5008 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 6) #5008

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 6) #5008 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE

Chapter 6 is Utilize A Smart Guide.

The authors admit they struggled to come up with a neutral, all-encompassing term for the person who is charged with leading a peer advisory group. The leader of an effective peer advisory group needs to be smart and seek the guide the group so they came up with the term smart guide.

The point of this chapter isn’t to teach somebody how to be a smart guide, but rather to allow members and prospective group members to gain insights into how these groups operate and why effective guidance is so critical to maximize the potential of the group.

A smart guide in action

Co-author Leon Shapiro begins the chapter with the story of a business owner – actually a co-owner with his brother – of a business that had recently discovered a serious inventory issue. The chairperson of the group had some insight about the relationship of the two co-owners, brothers. When the issue was brought before the group, the chairperson asked questions that prompted deeper discussions about how the two brothers approached running the business. By having a smart guide help navigate the discussion, the business benefited more fully from the support of the peer advisory group.

What does great peer advisory group leadership look like?

The challenge is simply stated – how can you help your members be at their best both inside and outside the group meeting, professionally and personally?

At the top of the list is having a passion for the work. The authors talk of a group leader named Pat who died in 2013 at the age of 98, still actively leading his groups. Many of the members had been with him for more than a decade. His passion was evidenced by remaining engaged in the work as he approached the century mark of life. The interesting note is that he didn’t start until he was 73. That means he enjoyed doing the work for almost 25 years. Pat regarded it as the most meaningful work of his life. He wasn’t just helping CEOs. He was helping create jobs, helping families buy houses, helping companies support non-profit causes – work that went well beyond the top or bottom line of a company’s performance.

Bula Network was formed when I left the C-suite after having run a company for almost 20 years. As Tom Petty sings, it was time to move and time to get going. Time for a new chapter. That was back in 2008. Mostly, I wanted to help other businesses by way of consulting. That morphed into coaching, which introduced me to the idea of peer advantage. Having never been involved in the formal work of peer advantage, it immediately clicked with me. I knew I was wired ideally for the work so I set about to learn all I could. That was over 2 years ago. 

That led to me connecting with Leo Bottary, a co-author of this book. Which led to me urging him to start his own podcast…which he did, YEAR OF THE PEER.

All the while I was desperately wanting to enter this space, even if in some small way. And to do it the way I felt was most suitable for the people I really wanted to serve – small to medium sized business owners. I’ve worked with many CEOs and executives, but there’s something unique about owners. They’re operators. They’re close to the work. They have a point-of-view that resonates with me. I’ve been in that world since I was young. My passions began to intersect – my passion for small to medium business coupled with my passion to help facilitate deep conversations where problem solving and taking advantage of opportunity could be enhanced. That’s how The Peer Advantage began…and why I’m now full-throttle ahead in seeking out SMB owners who want to experience the tremendous value of the peer advantage. 

The peer advantage resonated so deeply with me because if faced with door number 1, which I could enter and engage a room full of hundreds of people, many of whom are famous and exciting…or door number 2, behind which are 7 complete strangers who will engage in deep conversation where we can get to know each other…I’m picking door number 2 every single time! That also explains why I’m not attempting to build larger groups…I want to form groups of just 7 so conversations and progress can happen more quickly and relationships can be forged that will positively impact every member of the group. 

Servant leadership

In addition to passion, another common component of effective peer group leaders – aka smart guides – was servant leadership. Robert Greenleaf coined that term in 1970 in his essay, “The Servant Leader.” Leo interviewed Kent Keith who served as CEO from 2007-2012 of what is now called the Robert K. Greenleaf Center. Kent told Leo how servant leadership came to be.

Mr. Greenleaf worked at AT&T before retiring after 38 years in 1964. Toward the end of his career he was director of management research, training senior leaders for the company. After he retired he concluded that the power culture of leadership he had known at AT&T didn’t work well. He saw a better way – servant leadership. In his model the employees weren’t there to make the leader successful, but the leader was there to provide resources and guidance to help the employees be successful.

Today experts in leadership recognize the important shift Greenleaf made. As Kent said, “Most servant leaders are only known within their organizations and communities. They are not trying to be famous, they are trying to make a difference – and they do.”

Being a good listener

Take passion, add to it the servant leadership spirit and let’s add to it being a good listener. That means more than hearing the words. It requires the ability to hear and understand what’s being said. You can best know what someone’s true needs are when you’re able to listen and understand them.

Great questions and fierce conversations

Let’s pile on another component – the ability to get to the heart of somebody’s needs. That requires asking good, even great questions. Susan Scott wrote a book entitled, “Fierce Conversations.” In the book she describes the 7 steps to fierce conversations.

  1. determining the most pressing issue
  2. clarifying the issue
  3. reviewing the current impact
  4. deciding what will happen if nothing changes
  5. determining one’s personal contribution
  6. describing the ideal outcomes
  7. committing to action

In chapter 7 of THE POWER OF PEERS we’ll learn more about how to ask good questions.

Reaching your own conclusions

The best group leaders think of themselves as coaches, not consultants. Consultants are problem-solvers who recommend solutions while coaches help you reach your own conclusions. My career over the past decade has morphed from consulting to coaching so this progression to becoming what the authors call “a smart guide” is fitting for my experience, expertise and natural wiring.

There is a lot of evidence to support the idea that whenever we employ a solution, a decision, a plan or anything else that we conclude ourselves…we’re more likely to follow through and be successful implementing it. That sense of ownership of a solution is important.

Relationship building

The best smart guides have an ability to help group members build relationships. The authors cite a story of a peer group leader who conducted a meeting, but 3 days later one of the members had a crucial issue arise. He called her fretting about having to wait another month until the next meeting. She asked him what he wanted to do and he said he’d like to get with a few of the members who he felt might most be able to help him. He asked her if she could help make that meeting happen and she suggested he contact those members directly. The point wasn’t her role, but the member’s need and his ability to forge ahead, even without her (the group leader). The members have a relationship with each other when a smart guide performs well.

A passion for the work

Passionate leaders have an impact on people. Just think about the people, like teachers, who have had the biggest impact on you. We’re attracted to and more deeply engaged by passionate people. We can tell when people love what they do and are really into it.

The group leadership structure

You may tend to think that a peer advisory group leader is at the center of it all, standing in front of or in the middle of the group. But the leaders the authors spoke with said you can’t lead a peer group that way. At least not for very long. The ideal group structure isn’t one that puts the focus on the leader, but where the attention is on the members and their interaction with one another.


The best smart guides aren’t at the head, but they’re among the group. They’re part of the group. The authors have a diagram of a triad where the smart guide, a member and the group are at the three corners holding the relationship in the middle. Triads become essential for effective communication.

The smart guide insures that the group understands what’s going on and what’s being said. And the smart guide has the back of the relationship.

Everything can’t go through the leader though if the group is going to stay together. Sustaining the group requires a smart guide to help insure that every member and the entire group bear responsibility for holding up their part of the relationship.

Reinforce group norms

The leader can’t be wishy washy. A measure of assertiveness is required to maintain the group norms and insure the group culture is positive – enforcing things like confidentiality and safety. Developing a shared understanding of expectations and responsibilities is an essential part of the smart guide’s responsibility.

Creating an atmosphere for learning

Group meetings can be serious tackling some pretty heavy issues. Smart guides reported the importance of interjecting some fun at times. You may think that business owners or CEOs wouldn’t appreciate it, but that’s not true. This is their time out of the office to work on their business…and to have a bit of fun, too.

Smart guides create different ways to interject fun into their group meetings. One group leader mentioned creating a wall space where group members could hang anything of interest they had come across since the last meeting. They could celebrate their findings together. They also celebrated milestones including birthdays or anniversaries. It brought the group closer together.


True smart guides lead with a guiding hand of a servant leader. They listen, ask good questions, build camaraderie, consider themselves coaches rather than consultants and wear their passion for the role on their sleeves.

In the next chapter – chapter 7 – armed with the right peers, a safe and confidential environment, and excellent guidance, the authors will explore what’s behind the power of these groups and how peer advantage becomes possible.

Are you a small to medium business owner who finds all this talk of The Peer Advantage intriguing? Then please email me at RandyCantrell [at] BulaNetwork [dot] com. If you can see the value of being surrounded by other business owners who are committed to growing their companies and their leadership, then I’d like to speak with you to learn more about you and your company.

Thanks for listening and next time we’ll tackle chapter 7 entitled, Foster Valuable Interaction.

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A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 5) #5007 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 5) #5007

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 5) #5007 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE


Today’s episode is brought to you by THE PEER ADVANTAGE, peer advisory groups by Bula Network. The Peer Advantage is a group of just 7 SMB owners from around the United States coming together regularly by way of an online video conferencing platform. It’s convenient, easy and cost effective. Email me at RandyCantrell [at] BulaNetwork [dot] com if you’d like to learn more.

The chapter begins with the story of two sons who have agreed to a 10 year buyout of the family business from their father. They pay off the debt in 5 years, but dad is still hanging around, drawing a salary, pitting one brother against the other and dragging things out because he’s not ready to let go despite the agreement. The tension between them all is negatively impacting the family and the business. Who can these sons talk with? Where can they go to have a safe, private and confidential conversation about it?

They need to handle this problem or their business and family may implode. But the level of trust involved for the kind of dialogue they need to have requires an environment where each participant can be totally vulnerable yet completely safe. Environments that afford complete safety are rare – nonexistent for many of us.

For these brothers, the safe environment of their peer advisory group offered them the support and encouragement they needed to help them confront their father. When they did, their dad got angry, but a week later he realized they were completely right. He was simply afraid to let go. He stepped away from the business, easing the family tension and giving the sons the freedom to nearly triple sales over the next 24 months.

Fighting off caveman mentality

Vulnerability equaled weakness in caveman days, which resulted in death. So for many people, being vulnerable isn’t a good thing. Brene Brown, author of the book Daring Greatly, talks about the myth of vulnerability. One myth is that vulnerability is weakness. During her research, Brown asked subjects to finish the sentence: “Vulnerability is ___________.” Sample responses included starting a business, having faith and admitting to being afraid of something. Brown says vulnerability sounds like the truth and feels like courage.

It’s about being courageous and telling the truth. Sadly, too many people regard sharing a messy problem, not knowing the answer to a question, or demonstrating a lack of competence in a particular discipline as a sign of weakness, and fear they’ll be judged or ridiculed. Member of a peer advisory group have to learn and understand they can be vulnerable without dying or being judged.

Beyond overcoming our fear of being judged, there’s another challenge to creating a safe environment. There are very few safe places in our society for true vulnerability. We live in a world of constant, almost instant judgment. It’s especially true for CEOs and business owners. Letting your guard down is tough because it requires you to consider that this new environment – the peer advisory group setting – is different from anything you’ve ever experienced before. You may believe when you join such a group that the members are asking you to trust first, then you’ll get trust in return. The good news is the opposite is true. It’s likely during the first meeting that somebody will share a personal story and you’ll quickly realize it’s the first time that member has ever told it out loud. The group is ahead of you. The water is fine.

Group norms

After building trust, people can have faith in the sincerity and depth of other members’ caring. That’s what allows members to effective challenge each other to grow. If you’re a judger instead of a learner, it’s unlikely you’ll feel comfortable in such a group. Learners are ideally suited to benefit from participating in a peer advisory group.

All members of the group comply with the group’s norms. There’s a consensus that confidentiality is critical and key. A dedicated onboarding is essential for exercising your vulnerability muscles.

The value of onboarding

The authors interviewed dozens of peer advisory group leaders to discover the shared best practices for onboarding. The first and most important step is to engage the members as equal. New members feel welcomed as equal partners and now understand they’re part of a group that values them and cares about their personal and professional growth.

Additionally, the new member gets a written profile on each of the other members before the first meeting. These profiles tend to offer more details about the group members than what may have been shared with the new member before joining. Every member will take a few minutes during the first meeting to talk about who they are, how long they’ve been in the group, and the biggest value they’re getting from the group. Group members are also encouraged to reach out to new members outside of the group meeting.

Members are often asked to share stories about their lives and identify any weaknesses they may have. The objective is to inspire questions and invite dialogue. That creates open conversation where members can feel free to share anything they’d like.

To have safety, you have to build trust

Jim Kouzes, author of The Leadership Challenge, says if you want to build trust, everybody needs to feel the same level of vulnerability. One way to accomplish that is through self-disclosure. When members share who they are, where they came from – and go back as far into their childhoods as they’d like – the group learns about who they are as people, and it fosters others to share more about themselves, too. By divulging high points and low points members learn that they’re not so different from one another. It creates more trust.

Vulnerability rewarded

Scot Dietz is “head cheese” (his real title) at 3 Blind Mice Window Covering in San Diego was experiencing gang buster sales. In 2006 he was recognized as the second-fastest growing business in the region by the San Diego Business Journal. That’s when he joined a peer advisory group because despite his success, he believed joining a group would expose him to people who could help him get his business to whole new level. When the recession hit, it impacted Scot’s business hard. He suffered 34% decreases in sales, followed by more decreases. His company was sinking going from a $5.5 million company to a $1.2 million company in the span of just 3 years.

He admitted to his group that he was drowning. He asked his group members if he should file for bankruptcy. The group went further than that. One of the members invited Scot to operate out of a space he and his wife had available – free of charge for six months. They offered to charge him $500 monthly for the 6 months after that, then to raise the rent to market rates following that. Scot went from paying $8000 a month in rent to zero. That allowed him to get his business on track. Today his business is stronger than ever. The group was there for him as he worked his way back. The group’s value to Scot is priceless.

Safety inspires openness

Scot’s problems caused him to open up, not shut down. That made the difference in getting the help he needed from his group.

Issues don’t have sides, they have dimensions that go beyond facts. When members open up there’s greater clarity about the issue. And the group can get to the root of the problem.

The dangers of missteps

Members make mistakes. That’s why the group and its leader try to avoid missteps. An example of a misstep is a member being disrespectful in response to comments from another member. That can cause the disrespected member to shut down and not share in the future. But it can also serve to put other members on guard. If the misstep isn’t addressed immediately, the group dynamic can be forever damaged. Repeated acts of such disrespect to others would necessitate dismissal of that member from the group.

No single member is more important than the group. The authors research revealed that such dismissals are rare. Member of peer advisory groups tend to understand and comply with group culture and norms.

Besides, a single misstep doesn’t necessarily spoil the group, as evidenced by a story Jim Kouzes told about his colleague and co-author Barry Posner. Barry was leading a workshop where he was getting people to do the “trust fall” exercise. In 30 years of doing that they had never seen anybody get hurt. People tend to do what they’re supposed to. One day a participant asked Barry, “Professor Posner, why don’t you do the trust fall?” He’d done it many times before so he told them instead of falling over he would lie on the ground underneath and take a picture of everybody catching each person as they fell. He warned the catchers that if they failed the person would fall right on top of him. Everybody agreed it was a great idea.

So Barry got down on the ground, aimed his camera up at the person standing on the stepladder about 3 or 4 feet off the ground. The participant fell over backward, but for some reason the catcher didn’t catch. The person landed right on Barry. The faller wasn’t hurt but Barry lost his breath momentarily.

People were shocked. Later Barry learned he had cracked a few ribs. The folks in the crowd told him, “We bet you don’t ever do that again.” After a minute Barry said, “Actually, I will. I think this has taught us something very important. There are really just two rules when it comes to trust. Rule number one is: you have to keep working on trust and never take it for granted. Rule number two is: sometimes trust breaks down. So see rule number one.”


Being vulnerable is liberating. If you want to get everything you can out of a peer advisory group, or any relationship, regard vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. According to author Brene Brown, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Chapter 6 will cover the third of the five factors – the role of the group leader and why an effective leader is the lynchpin of peer advantage. That chapter is entitled, Utilize A Smart Guide.

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bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

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A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 4) #5006 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 4) #5006

A Chapter-By-Chapter Audio Summary Of THE POWER OF PEERS (Chapter 4) #5006 - THE PEER ADVANTAGE

Chapter 4 of THE POWER OF PEERS begins Part 2 of the book, The Five Factors For Peer Advantage. Chapter 4 is on the first of these, “Select The Right Peers.”

Surrounding yourself with the right people is essential to peer advantage. Peer advantage doesn’t come cheaply, but if you’re in the right group where you share strong values, set clear goals and commit yourself to the other members by giving and receiving — there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.

“How will I identify which peers can really help me?” is the question you must ask and answer. You should look beyond mere credentials and titles. Think about how you approach hiring an employee. You look for people who have certain skills, but you’re also critical of how well they’ll fit into your culture. The same thing is true of your peer group. Good groups share a set of beliefs in pursuit of common goals. There are 7 shared beliefs that are essential for a successful group.

The group is smarter than any one individual. 

You may not be the smartest person in the room, but if you’re the boss you may be treated that way. The collective experience in the room is greater than any individual in the room.

You may diminish your team if you always think you have to be the smartest guy in the room. Once you believe in the collective knowledge of the group, you can stop judging and start learning.

Leaders benefit from insightful questions and advice from their peers.

Hard questions can be asked in a group setting. Your fellow members care about your success, but without skin in the game they’re free to ask unfiltered questions, offer impartial advice and share experiences. Great questions and unfettered advice and feedback help members build trust and extend their relationships beyond the group meetings.

Leaders, regardless of industry, share aspirations and challenges. 

Common practices in one industry might be unheard of in another one. Sharing ideas and practices across industries can be powerful for CEOs and business owners.

People prefer to implement their own solutions.

There’s a difference between what you get from a consultant and what you get from a group of peers. Both can be valuable, but when you get recommendations from a consultant you’re left to implement their ideas. When you get insights and experiences from a group of peers you’re challenged to learn from your colleagues and make a commitment to develop and implement your own solutions. CEOs and business owners who own a particular strategy and implement it are more committed to be successful with it.

Success is often the best teacher. 

When something works, you’re more inclined to adopt it or stick with it. Until then you may not trust it.

Success can fuel our willingness to change. Listening to and engaging in a peer group can fuel success when people are open to the strengths found in others.

Peer accountability is a powerful force.

This is a force we all experienced from the time we started school. Teachers understood it, too – what with their carrot and stick approach. Teachers shined a light on the good students while punishing poor behavior. In business, admission of failure to colleagues that you failed them is the toughest admission of all. The respect of your colleagues is your greatest currency. You want to be regarded as somebody will do what they say. It’s a culture of accountability found in a peer group.

Shared beliefs are necessary if the group is going to engage in open and honest exchanges, creating a confidential and safe environment for sharing. If you have what it takes, then you’re on your way to realizing the peer advantage.

Shared goals are also important. What do you want to accomplish? If you want to run marathons you know to surround yourself with others who want the same thing. THE PEER ADVANTAGE by Bula Network is designed to serve SMB owners who want to grow their business and their own lives as business owners. That necessarily means it’s not designed for non-owners, or owners who are satisfied. That’s how we make sure the conversations are congruent with every member of the group.

How will you know if you’re in the right group?

Your group will let you know. By their very nature peer groups provide honest and direct feedback. If you’re apprehensive about your interactions with the group, chances are they’re equally apprehensive about you. Typically, many CEO group leaders will do a 90-day check in with members to see how much value they’re getting – and to give feedback on their participation. Good communication is the glue that holds the group together.

It’s about giving and receiving. 

We can all fall into the trap of thinking we’re giving a lot more than we’re getting. When people embrace a different view – one that recognizes all the benefits we’re getting, as opposed to solely concentrating on what we feel we’re giving – then we can avail ourselves of the benefits of the peer advantage.

If you’re wondering if a peer advisory group is right for you, ask yourself if you believe in the true meaning of the phrase, “It’s better to give than to receive.”

That doesn’t mean you should give more than you receive. It means giving is receiving in more ways than one. In the context of a peer advisory group, if you’re prepared to give 100% of yourself to the group, you’ll get 6, 8, 16 times return from your colleagues – based on the number of members in your group. Each member will, be fully committed to you!


• A peer group is smarter than any one individual.
• Leaders benefit from insightful questions and impartial advice from their peers.
• People prefer to implement their own solutions. Mostly, we don’t want to be told what to do or how to do it.
• Success is the most effective means for driving positive behavioral change.
• Leaders, regardless of industry sector, share common aspirations and challenges.
• Leaders benefit from learning about industry practices not common to their own business.
• Peer accountability is a powerful force.

The value of your group is negotiated between you and your group members, based on a simple formula: the more you give, the more you receive.

My Calls To Action

  1. Seek out one or more people to connect with based on nothing more than what you feel you can do to serve them. No expectation on what you can get, just focus on what you can give.
  2. Let these ideas of sharing experiences, insights and expertise resonate with you. Keep thinking about what you can do for others and think about how much value they can offer your life (and your business).
  3. If you own a business – it doesn’t matter if you run a business that does $1 million a year or one that does $300 million a year – and you think a small, intimate virtual group that makes participating in a peer advisory group easy and convenient might bring value to YOU, then email me: RandyCantrell [at] BulaNetwork [dot] com.

Next time we’ll dive into Chapter 5 – Create A Safe Environment.

Thanks for listening,

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

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