Think back to your first professional job. You probably felt relatively useless during the first few weeks, and your employer expected a ramp-up period. After asking questions, observing behaviors, and learning from mistakes, you became successful at your job—with plenty of help from others. Most people experience this to a large degree every time they switch jobs or receive significant promotions.
Continually learning from others around you maintains a steady cadence throughout most careers as coworkers share learned tips with each other, figure out new technologies together, and discuss the best ways to respond to new challenges. Psychologists know these casual workplace relationships are essential for emotional well-being, and they are also responsible for continued professional growth and proceeding with confidence. That helps fuel the calculated risk-taking that often generates the best results, but the very people most empowered to make these decisions are the same who are often left with the smallest peer support networks: senior executives and those in the C-suite.
Hiding from failure is counterproductive to learning from it.
Half of all executives and almost two-thirds of CEOs report that they do not receive any coaching or leadership advice. The strongest leaders that companies rely on to make important decisions and set long-term goals for future growth are more often than not entirely on their own. It can be impossible for them to seek counsel from within the company because the number of peers is limited and they may fear appearing weak; but external peer support networks can fill this void.
Success Through Shared Experiences
Thomas Edison failed at creating a working light bulb 1,000 times before he hit on the winning design. When a reporter asked him how it felt to fail so much, he famously answered, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." It’s a great answer, but as much as we know how important failure is, boards of directors, shareholders, and employees are often less than forgiving. It’s easy for executives to feel like any failure undermines their ability to lead, so they often go to great lengths to hide those “steps in the process.”
Hiding from failure is counterproductive to learning from it, and external peer groups give senior executives a safe place to share their stories. The simple act of sharing experiences can provide insights into understanding how to avoid negative outcomes in the future and counsel from peers offers additional insight and perspective on how to best approach challenges that executives are actively facing. Shared stories of failure can also help executives learn from each other and render those experiences into investments in the success of others.
External Accountability Keeps Leaders on Track
Senior executives are natural born goal setters, but the motivation to stay on track can be challenging. They often do not answer directly to supervisors and it can be all too easy to slide on milestones and deadlines when the only forgiveness needed to do so is your own. Accountability to others in achieving goals supplies necessary motivation to act and achieve, even when it is informal. A peer group makes this accountability convenient and regular, helping keep top leaders on track to reaching set goals.
Regular review of progress and benchmarks by external peers who have been down similar paths and can offer advice along the way is helpful in overcoming obstacles and building confidence. This builds a steady momentum toward a pattern of professional growth that persists even after the goal is realized.
Leadership should be viewed as a process that requires continual nurturing, learning, discovery, and refinement. Peer groups like the Executive Circle Leadership Program are effective at helping leaders form relationships that fuel this growth, especially when they entail long-term commitments and top leaders from multidisciplinary business sectors. The executives that engage in tough conversations that illuminate blind spots in peer groups are better equipped to take on tough challenges and be true leaders than those who go it alone.