Leadership

Who's in Your Corner?

Imagine traveling through life with a group of smart, enthusiastic peers who are completely engaged in living a large, successful and happy life, never settling for less, and always showing you the way to stretch and go for it. What would happen?

You would live a large, successful and happy life.

While teaching at the McColl School of Business at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., I have noticed that the executive MBA students form cohesive networks of support for one another as they participate in the two-year program. Students keep current on one another’s careers and personal challenges. They show their colleagues ways to take risks to be happy. Many students refer to this peer-group experience as transformational and have gone on to make courageous, life-changing decisions.

Ultrabusy people who work solo and who struggle to succeed sometimes worry more about their network of investors and business prospects than forming a circle of peers. Yet people's success can be affected by their peer network. People who stay involved with positive and prolific colleagues are more productive and creative. Research from MIT has shown they are also happier, more resilient and satisfied.

Related: Collaborate or Be Killed

The initial team at GoPro involved a small band of enthusiastic and engaged family members and peers of Nick Woodman. They helped establish the company as an innovator by continually iterating on a product, which evolved from a film-based camera to a digital still-and-video camera. In 2004 Woodman released his first video camera, a 35-millimeter waterproof film tool and posted $350,000 in revenue the next year. Today GoPro is a billion-dollar outfit.

Evidence presented by scholars like Warren Bennis and others indicates that high-performance teams help drive the success of an organization. No superhero achieves alone what he or she could do when collaborating with others.

While there's so much talk today about teams, there's so little real action. The rate and depth of innovation that's needed today isn’t the kind that comes from individuals competing with one another, disengaged divisions or top-down networks. What's needed is a way to leverage the best ideas from trusting teams of people who can show one another the way to innovate and influence the future.

Companies like Zappos are experimenting with Holacracy, a management system designed to capture the best ideas, concepts that might not see the light of day in traditional top-down systems. Zappos does what other great companies do: It honors the fundamentals of participating in a solid team of peers guiding one another to success.

The idea of leveraging peer groups isn’t new. Seventy-five years ago Napoleon Hill studied 700 successful people. In his classic Think and Grow Rich, he wrote about common practices of these leaders, such as relying on “mastermind groups” of peers for collaborating on direction and purpose.

To build a peer group that will help show you the way to success, consider the following five basic steps:

Related: Why You're Thinking About Networking All Wrong

1. Prioritize and be intentional.

Consciously work to cultivate a close, exceptional group of peers and teammates who will help you grow and adopt effective habits. In and outside of work, elicit the advice of people you want to emulate. Collaborate with people who are engaged. Disengaged people will pull you down.

2. Pursue positivity.

If you spend time with people who are happy and optimistic, you'll become more positive and excited because moods are contagious. The McColl's executive MBA class of 2015 is led by people like La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries executive Martha Brown. She cheers on her classmates making presentations and applauds visiting guests.

3. Seek honest feedback.

Those wishing to take quantum leaps have no need for people pouring pink paint on their feedback. Friends and family members who will shoot straight and communicate with candor are priceless.  

4. Develop habits of influence.

Be a connector. Learn to ask smart questions, draw out others and listen with commitment. Share with others what you're learning. Being socially aware doesn't mean being a super extrovert. Regardless of your style, create cohesion and trust within your peer group or team.

5. Stay a student and stretch.

If you know everything, you have become finite. But if you’re open to learning and forever being a student, the possibilities are endless. Choose programs that stretch and deepen your experience. Major cities have leadership organizations that bring together forward-thinking people from all walks of life so that they can become informed about issues and develop solutions for their communities. Participants are immersed in a network of engaged peers.

If you belong to a strong peer group whose members share the hope of living a large, happy and successful life, you're likely to live a large life as well. If you belong to a high-performing, trusting team at a company, you're likely to do something meaningful and influence the future. A successful peer group or high-performance team can make smarter decisions than any single person.

Related: A New Model for Results-Driven Networking