Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people…or find a different room.” Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell, Inc.
When CEOs are the smartest people in the room, they risk not knowing what they don’t know, feeling overconfident in what they do know, and dismissing anyone who dares challenge them in either case. Peer advisory groups and boards of mentors invite smart people into the room, people who can fill in the gaps in experience or expertise; offer advice and support; and help CEOs make better decisions. What’s the difference between advisory boards and peer groups – and what difference can that difference make for leaders?
Peer Advisory Groups and Advisory Boards: What’s the Difference Anyway?
It’s lonely at the top. You’ve heard the cliché before; as a leader, you’ve felt it before. Peer advisory groups and advisory boards address this from different perspectives:
Peer Advisory Group:
A group of peers who advise. That about sums it up! If you join a peer group, you will meet with 10-15 (depending on the organization) other business owners, CEOs, and perhaps CFOs or other C-suite executives. Your group, which is usually facilitated by a chair, will represent a variety of industries, and members are non-competitors (you don’t want to share your best plays with the other team!). The goal is to exchange thoughts, opinions, challenges, problems, solutions, and best practices in a confidential, safe setting.
A peer advisory group is a great fit if:
You want your advice on a two-way street. When you’re involved with a peer advisory group, part of your purpose is to share your own expertise and experiences. These groups do a terrific job at getting people to the table to exchange ideas and work on issues – and it can be a good chance to network and nurture connections.
Within your company, you are in the unique position of being the only person there without a boss. No one is going to tell you what to do, for instance, if you have to fire the CFO because he or she is not performing up to par. Your peer group can advise on issues like this as they come up. It’s like calling a friend and asking, “What do I do?”
Advisory Board or Board of Mentors:
This assemblage of advisors is there for you and for your company. That’s it. It’s your dedicated team of mentors. Instead of a group meeting where a dozen or so people swap experiences and ideas, this is a board of 3-5 handpicked members who work with you and your management team on your strategic issues. The goal is to put your growth plans into high gear by leveraging the experience, knowledge, know-how, advice, and connections of top leaders and experts in relevant fields.
A board of mentors is a great fit if:
You need high-level strategic help. If, for instance, you’re thinking about franchising, securing a government contract, or positioning your company for a merger or acquisition, you’re facing high risks and high rewards. The mentors sitting around the table have been hand-selected to help you accomplish those strategic goals and climb to the next level.
Let’s use franchising as an example: on your board, you’d be smart to include a cashed-out CEO who has gone through franchising him or herself. You may include a specialist in franchising law, a high-level leader with connections in the geographic region into which you’re going to venture, and maybe someone experienced in sophisticated marketing strategy. These experts fill gaps in your current management and advisory teams.
Boards of mentors are planning-oriented. Instead of putting out fires or dealing with issues as they come up, they tend to be more concerned with long-term planning and strategy. Which is not to say they won’t lend a hand when you do have a crisis or question pop up. This is your A-team.
The great paradox of business is that the smartest person in the room knows enough to surround her or himself with even smarter people. Both peer advisory groups and boards of mentors can do this. The difference is in the level, scope, and intensity of the advice you will receive. One is reciprocal, and one is tailored for your needs exclusively.
If you’re on a growth trajectory, a board of expert advisors can help you maintain your momentum and plan for the future. It’s a smart move, and BottomLine Growth can assist you in creating and maintaining a board that will enable you to reach the summit of your success.