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CEOs Anonymous

Beyond everything the insurance industry throws at them, brokerage owners face many challenges in the basics of running a business. Confidential peer support groups for CEOs can offer valuable perspectives from outside the industry on how to meet these challenges

As a business leader, it is easy to become isolated or insulated. The demands of leadership and the very nature of the role mean that CEOs of entrepreneurial companies like insurance brokerages often lack people they can turn to for frank discussions about management problems and issues. What’s more, if you are not exposed to new ideas and different ways of thinking, you can gradually fall behind. To achieve and sustain business success, it is critical for CEOs to find opportunities for new learning and to connect with people who can bring you different perspectives and fresh insights. Mentoring from a peer group can be an essential part of this learning. These groups provide a window into how other successful business leaders run their companies and their lives; a window into their minds and their industries; their opportunities and challenges.

Ask yourself: If you could have one decision back that you made in the past year, which one is it and why do you want it back? What was the cost to you and your company of getting that decision wrong? Would it have been of value to you to have been able to discuss that decision with a group of experienced CEOs before you made it?

A CEO peer group organization offers just that—a place to bring your biggest decisions; the ones that can take your company to greater heights if you are right, or take you down if you are wrong. You don’t have to make these decisions alone. Membership in an entrepreneur peer group gives you the opportunity to take them to a CEO brain trust and get their honest feedback on what they feel is the right decision.

How Do CEO Peer Groups Work?

CEO peer group organizations are businesses that provide members with a business and personal support and learning network not readily found elsewhere. Depending on the organization, members are placed in permanent groups of between eight and sixteen business leaders, with no major competitors, customers, or suppliers allowed in the same group. A professional and experienced group leader is a critical component of a CEO peer group. Their role is to make each member’s experience as profitable as possible. The group leader is part mentor, facilitator, confidant, and supporter.

Membership in a CEO peer group typically involves a financial and time investment of approximately $1,200 monthly and eight to ten hours per month. This time is divided between monthly peer group meetings, one-to-one mentoring sessions, and a variety of networking and speaker events. Not all peer group organizations offer one-to-one mentoring and/or a regular schedule of speaker events and these may involve a lower cost and time commitment. Curriculums differ between organizations but membership usually includes these three key components.

Each month, peer groups meet to discuss their biggest challenges and opportunities on both a business and personal level. During this meeting, members have the opportunity to tap into the individual and collective knowledge and experience of their group under the guidance of their group leader. Members offer each other honest feedback on personal growth. They provide valuable input on corporate vision and business plans. They give insight on work/life balance issues, numbers, and goals. Members hold each other accountable. They also share tools, such as: how to help build and keep an “A” team; improve communications; sales techniques; and tools to help be a better leader.

Everything discussed in these peer group meetings is kept in the strictest confidence, as confidentiality and trust are the cornerstones for a successful CEO peer group.

Typically, members will also meet individually with their group leader each month for a confidential one-to-one, two hour mentoring session.

During these one-to-one sessions, the group leader asks probing questions designed to get members to think, question, and discover new possibilities. One-to-one mentoring topics can include: important projects; direct report performance; key performance indicators; balance sheet/income statement items; the biggest long-term opportunity facing the company; leadership development; and senior team development.

These meetings are intended to focus on the issues most vital to each member’s success and growth, their company’s success, and their overall personal success, and provide insights that allow members to take confident, actionable steps towards greater success.

Peer groups also offer members numerous opportunities to learn and connect with other business leaders. These events give CEOs and senior executives opportunities to develop and nurture important business contacts. These networking and learning opportunities can include: special interest retreats; private lunch or dinner meetings with other business leaders; keynote speakers; workshops; charity events and golf tournaments.

The Mentor Benefit

Business consultant Saj-nicole A. Joni wrote a great book titled The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight to Create Superior Results. Joni is the founder of Cambridge International Groups Ltd., a high-level advisory services firm and she is widely regarded as one of the leading third-opinion advisors to executives around the world. In her book, she states that, “successful leaders typically make a significant investment in developing relationships with a set of external peers. This is critically important for leaders of smaller organizations as well as those in larger ones. CEO organizations give you access to a large network and the opportunity to become a member in a small inner-circle thinking group.”

She also says that, “to be a successful leader today you need, perhaps above all, to know your own limits. And then, you need to know how to go out and find others who can take you the rest of the way.”

Finding the right CEO peer group can “take you the rest of the way.”

At the top, every leader’s opportunities and challenges are the same. Just because somebody is in an entirely different industry doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them. What keeps them up at night is exactly the same stuff that keeps you up at night: sales, cash flow, growth, EBITDA, competitors, health, relationships, poor performers, the dollar, the economy, the government, finding and keeping top talent, leading change, inspiring people, and inspiring self. Their perspective opens your mind and allows you to gain great ideas on how to increase your company’s success.

A CEO peer group can allow you to: grow your company beyond past performance; become significantly more successful while working fewer hours; have more time to focus on your strategic priorities to grow your business faster and easier; improve on hiring and retaining high performance employees; overcome isolation through impartial and objective feedback from other experienced business leaders; have more time to pursue your personal interests and improve your personal relationships

Owner of P&C insurance brokerages have all of these challenges just like any other business owner. Broker Brian M. Waddell is president of Waddell Insurance Brokers Limited, Waddell Financial Consultants Limited and Waddell Resources Limited. He is also a member of a CEO peer group.

“A CEO peer group provides a unique ‘think tank’ which creates a new way of discerning, approaching and responding to issues that face business leaders in this ever-changing business environment,” says Waddell. “It does not matter what type of company you are commanding, a peer group will provide you with the skills, and more importantly the global perspective and insight, required to run a business today. The feedback received on the issues shared with your peers, individually or collectively, helps you make sound and informed decisions and take your organization to the next level, ahead of your competition.”

Daryn McLean, president and CEO of Moore McLean Insurance Group Ltd. in Toronto has similar thoughts about his experience with a CEO peer group.

“I wish I had learned sooner in my career how a CEO peer group could provide an opportunity to share with, learn from, and collaborate with other like-minded executives,” says McLean. “I was surprised at how relevant the issues of a CEO in a different industry can be to my business. My group gives me the opportunity to present individual challenges and dilemmas to other executives who can provide unique and fresh perspectives and gives me a chance to discuss strategy, vision, and the big picture for my business. I have experienced early on that honest input from multiple sources in my CEO peer group helps me see a more accurate portrait of my industry and the market as a whole than is possible from working within my individual business. I am a true believer that CEO peer groups and forums are an excellent outlet for all CEOs to share and learn. With a diverse range of perspectives, a chance to step back and see the big picture, and a climate of honesty and accountability, you can utilize these groups to take your organization and professional career to the next level. That is my plan!”

John Wilson is founder and CEO of CEO Global Network, a Canadian CEO and executive peer group organization. He is also the author of Great CEOs and How They Are Made: the Seven Imperatives. He can be reached at jwilson@ceoglobalnetwork.com.

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Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Transcontinental Media G.P.