Who’s On Your Learning Team?

Earlier this year, I delivered the keynote address to the graduates of Seton Hall University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication & Leadership (MASCL) program.   What you need to know about these students/mid-to-senior level executives is that they braved this program, not just an individuals, but as a learning team.  They declared victory together!  Here’s an assertion I shared with them:

“…the most valuable learning you had in this program didn’t come from one of your instructor’s posts or lectures; it didn’t come from the writings of Kouzes & Posner or Peter Senge; in fact, it didn’t come from WHAT you learned at all – it came from HOW you learned – that’s the most enduring lesson.

“You learned how to learn together. It’s quintessential peer advantage.  Think about it. Over time, facts can become irrelevant, theories outdated. Since we live in a world where we contemplate a future we barely can imagine, having the ability to work and learn with others is where the real enduring value lies.”

I’m not sure there has ever been a time in human history where people have had to work so hard just to keep up.  The challenge is that while we’re trying to handle what’s in front of us, we also have no choice but to prepare ourselves for what’s next.

Who is helping you do that?

Whether want to run a marathon or run a company, your learning team will keep you abreast of what’s next and help you cross the finish line.  The good news is you don’t have to enter a graduate program to find one. You just have to do three things:

  1. Set goals for yourself
  2. Identify and enlist people who share your passion and a desire to learn
  3. Invest time in each other’s success

You can join a peer group or start a learning team of your own.  If you’ve never experienced it, you may not know what you’re missing.  So I invite you to ask anyone who’s ever been part of a high-performing group or learning team.  They’ll tell you a simple truth about success, no matter how you define it:

Who you surround yourself with matters. 



Peers Achieving Critical Mass

Ric Franzi’s  unique experience as a business leader and expertise with leading peer groups for CEOS and other senior level executives contributed his driving a content rich interview on his show Critical Mass for Business.  You’ll also want to add his book, Critical Mass: The 10 Explosive Powers of CEO Peer Groups to your reading list.  Enjoy the interview and the book!


Add Your Favorite Title to the Peer Advantage Library

The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success is based on the simple concepts that who you surround yourself with matters and that peers can help each other in ways they won’t find anywhere else.  Turns out, if you are more selective, strategic and structured about how you engage your peers, there’s no challenge you can’t meet nor any aspiration too lofty to achieve.  The proof can be found in the countless stories of people who have overcome remarkable odds and who’ve shed self-limiting beliefs to achieve amazing success for themselves and their organizations.  Experiencing the power and the benefits of true peer advantage, however, can be greatly enhanced by reading other works that will help you take peer advantage in your life to new heights.

To that end, and with your help (the help of my peers), I’d like create a Peer Advantage Library that includes titles that span beyond The Power of Peers and inspires you to think about the work of some outstanding authors in the context of peer advantage. Some books focus squarely on the peer group experience, while others take a deeper dive into specific aspects of peer advantage (vulnerability and trust for example).  Here are ten thought starters to get the ball rolling:

Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi

True North Groups by Bill George & Doug Baker

Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

Conversational Capacity by Craig Weber

Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser

Learning Leadership by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Team Genius by Rich Karlgaard

The Wisdom of Walk-Ons by Paul L. Corona

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger and Richard McDermott

These amazing books are just the tip of the iceberg.  With your help, we’ll create a robust collection that will help all of us experience the power of peer advantage in all aspects of our lives.  I will create a permanent home for the Peer Advantage Library over the next several weeks!  Join your fellow peers by adding your favorite book(s) in the comments section!  Thank you!


Emerging From The Learning Danger Zone

Every once in awhile, I find myself entering what I regard as my learning danger zone.  It’s when I realize I’m writing more than I’m reading.  Upon my return from a recent vacation in Europe, I decided to rectify that by diving in to Jim Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s latest book Learning Leadership.   As I expected, I’m extremely glad I did.  Building on decades of research and their previous books The Leadership Challenge (now in its fifth edition) and Encouraging the Heart, among others, Kouzes and Posner suggest that leadership rests inside all of us.  We are all capable of being leaders and the world needs us now more than ever.  All we have to do is be willing to try and dedicated enough to bring our leadership talents forward.

The focus of this book is about learning how to learn.  The best leaders are learning leaders.  Their five learning leadership fundamentals include:

  • Believe you can
  • Aspire to excel
  • Challenge yourself
  • Engage support
  • Practice deliberately

In a world where we’re bombarded with leadership tips and quotes, Learning Leadership challenges us to dig deeper.  It starts with believing in yourself.  The authors shared a Native American parable, that struck a chord with me, and I’d like to share it with you:

One evening, an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.  He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.  One is Evil.  It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  The other is Good.  It is joy, peace. love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”  The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”  The grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”

So if you feed the good, aspire to excel, and you’re willing to challenge yourself, then enlisting the support of others and engaging in the daily practice (the daily “doing”) of leadership is what it will take to be your best leadership self.

Best of all, the authors provide self coaching advice throughout the book that will help you successfully navigate this lifelong journey.   One suggestion is keeping a daily journal.  If I did that, maybe it would keep me out of slipping into my learning danger zone.   I look forward to trying it.   Order your copy today!  You’ll be glad you did!



Where in the World Is The Power of Peers?

The power of peers is everywhere!  It’s present in every corner of the globe, whether you live in a high context culture (Japan/China) or a lower context culture (United States/United Kingdom).*  With this in mind, I’m taking The Power of Peers on the road – on a European book tour of sorts.  Okay, to be more precise, it’s not part of the ACTUAL book tour; however, I do plan to bring it with me to a number of incredible European cities over the course of a 12-day trip starting later this week.

On select days during my time overseas, I’ll post clues on Twitter and LinkedIn as to the The Power of Peers’ whereabouts.  Be the first to guess the location of The Power of Peers (the book) on a particular day,  and I’ll send you a signed copy upon my return!  I will announce the winners publicly on Twitter and LinkedIn on the following day – keep that in mind if you choose to enter.  Once it’s been announced that you won, please contact me directly with your mailing address (which of course will remain confidential).

We know the power of peers is everywhere; my copy of The Power of Peers could be anywhere.  I look forward to your joining me on the trip!

*If you’re interested in learning more about high and low context cultures, check out the book Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall!

Peers, Agility & Being Ever Prepared

Recently, I (Leo Bottary) sat down with organizational agility expert and Vistage Worldwide Chair,  Mike Richardson to talk about how peer advantage can give leaders and their companies an agility advantage.  In this excerpt from our conversation, I talk about how our peers can help us prepare for what’s next, as Mike affirms that preparedness is essential to organizational agility.   For more information, check out The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success and Wheelspin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto.

Five Factors for Peer Advantage

Recently, I (Leo Bottary) sat down with Mike Richardson, who is an organizational agility expert and Chair for Vistage Worldwide.  We talked about how peer advantage provides organizational leaders with an agility advantage.  In this brief excerpt, I offer an overview of the five factors that help business leaders realize true peer advantage, as outlined in The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success.

UCONN Women’s Basketball: Peerless

Last April, statistician and writer Nate Silver dubbed the UCONN Women’s Basketball 2015 squad as the most dominant college basketball team on earth.  Fast forward to April, 2016 and the dominance continues, with UCONN adding a fourth consecutive national championship, the team capped an undefeated season (its 6th all-time) with an average margin of victory of nearly 40 points per game.  UCONN won its semi-final game at the Final Four against Oregon State by 29 points and the final against Syracuse by 31 to win its 11th national championship since capturing its first title in 1995.  Wow!

Mia Hamm once said, “It’s harder to stay on top than it is to get there.”  So how does Connecticut do it and what can we learn from this incredible team?  In addition to the strong peer-to-peer culture I described in two earlier posts, UCONN optimizes in ways other teams don’t. In our book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, we talk about four ways we engage our peers.  One of them we call optimize!

We optimize when we work together in teams to bring a high level of excellence to achieving a common goal. Leaders often form organizational “tiger teams” to tackle special projects. The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, conducts debriefs following every (what we see as perfect) flight to talk about how they can do better the next time. Top sports teams participate in practices that are often more rigorous than the games to ensure top performance when it truly counts.  Former UCONN and current WNBA star Sue Bird says that no women’s basketball team practices like they do at Connecticut.  And as an ESPN analyst, she’s been to a lot of women’s college basketball practices.

The work of optimizing tends to take place among a more homogeneous group of peers and be temporary in nature, determined by either the length of a specific project or the span of a season.  When it comes to business, we need to take time to practice, and we certainly should make the time to bring people together for debriefs.  Unfortunately, most companies don’t do much of either.  I believe we could have more companies that are consistently great, if people would just do what it takes to make that possible.

Longtime Runners’ World writer Joe Henderson once said (and I’m paraphrasing), it’s not always about doing things no one can do, it’s about doing things anyone can do but don’t.  While UCONN has three of the best players in the country graduating in the next month or so, it’s likely that next year’s team will continue to do what most teams don’t, and by believing in each other, they’ll be poised for another fantastic season.


Why Everyone Should Watch UCONN Women’s Basketball – Especially CEOs

The image I selected for this post is obviously not related to basketball.  Instead, I chose a photo most of you will recognize from one of the most dramatic moments in all of sports –  Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont by 31 lengths – check out the video).   Jack Nicklaus, the dominant golfer of his era, recalled watching the race alone at home and being moved to tears by this overwhelming performance. (It still gives me chills). I’d like to talk about why everyone – especially CEOs – should watch the NCAA Final Four for Women’s basketball (Sunday, 4/3 and Tuesday night, 4/5).

Last week, Dan Shaughnessy released a tweet and subsequent Boston Globe article stating that UCONN Women’s Basketball is simply too dominant.  So much so that it’s hurting the women’s game.  Shaughnessy argues that it’s the competition that matters, and if the outcome is considered a certainty before the game starts, then why should anyone watch?  If he’s right and that were actually the case, then we would pay to watch anybody play a sport, right?  Try assembling a bunch of average basketball players in a major arena with the simple promise that it will be a close game.  How many tickets do you think you’d sell to that one?

It’s a flawed argument.  Sports fans pay their hard earned money to see the best!  They pay to watch outstanding individual players and teams in their respective sports perform at the very highest levels.  Close games can be exciting, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing more incredible than watching a team or an individual player firing on all cylinders.  Just think about the last time you witnessed a performance that challenged, and even expanded, your understanding of greatness.  I bet you can remember it like it was yesterday.

Dan Shaughnessy asserts that next week’s women’s Final Four isn’t worth watching because it’s a forgone conclusion that UCONN will win the national championship.  I would argue that you won’t want to miss it.  It will be a sight to see!

UCONN will prepare for the Final Four with same level of effort and discipline they’ve given for every game all season.  That’s who they are.  You’ll see a team that is talented and well coached, certainly.  Yet look more closely, and you’ll discover a powerful peer-to-peer culture that’s been evident since winning their first national championship in 1995.

Over time, that culture has only grown stronger, as every player who has put on the UCONN jersey over the years has left a piece of themselves behind.  Opposing teams are not simply suiting up against Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck, and company, they’re playing UCONN greats Rebecca Lobo, Shea Ralph, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and the countless former players who live in the hearts of this year’s team.  That’s why UCONN is so tough to beat!

In our book The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success, we highlight UCONN women’s basketball as a shining example of what’s possible when teams realize peer advantage to the degree it exists at Connecticut.  While we invite you to read about it because of what UCONN will teach you and your organization about pursuing and sustaining excellence,  be sure to watch the Final Four and see this team in action for yourselves.

Ron Turcotte looked over his left shoulder before crossing the finish line at the Belmont because, “My curiosity got the best of me,” he said.  This weekend, be curious and watch one of the greatest teams in the history of sports do what they love to do.  It will be well worth watching.







The Communication Triad

Revisiting a regrettable chapter from my junior high school days, albeit painful, provided us with a metaphor for why the receipt of any communication, as intended, is the responsibility of the sender as opposed to the receiver.  Now I understand why this may seem unreasonable to some people.  Maybe the person wasn’t listening or just ignored an important text or email. Things like this happen all the time, right?  So why is that the sender’s fault?  The thing is, it’s not about assigning blame, it’s about accepting  responsibility.  It comes down to verifying and not assuming.  It’s how great leaders assure that they’re not just writing or talking – they’re actually communicating.

That said, most of us can use help in that area.  So working in teams of three versus teams of two (triads instead of dyads) can provide added assurance that everyone is on the same page.  In the book Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, they note the power of triads in communication.  For example, if one person is talking to another, and it becomes apparent that the two people are not on the same page, the third member of the group can be extremely effective at clearing up misunderstandings.   It can work the same way in a larger group, where you have a leader, a member, and the group itself serving as the third leg of the stool.  It’s how the highest performing CEO peer advisory groups engage each other during each and every meeting.

In our book, The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success (which will be officially released on 3/22), we offer this concept as just one small example of what it can mean when we accept responsibility for our success, surround ourselves with the right people, and reap the benefits of what we call peer advantage.  Communicating with one another more effectively is just the tip of the iceberg.   I invite you to pick up three copies – one for you and two more for the other members of your triad!