Peer or Expert?

Last summer, I wrote a post titled: What Does It Take to be a Great Chair?  I wasn’t talking about a piece of furniture and the requirements of four strong legs and a comfortable seat.  I was referring of course to Vistage Chairs who professionally facilitate CEO and key executive peer advisory boards here in the U.S. and around the world.  (Seems it doesn’t matter where you’re from; everyone can benefit from joining a peer group).  Having never been a Chair, the content for that post was developed largely with the help of our Vistage community’s Best Practice Chairs.   These are the Chairs who make all of our other Chairs even better.  They share their wisdom, experiences, and techniques to help Vistage Chairs deliver the best possible value to their members.

My interest in the topic of peer advisory groups comes in part from my work at Seton Hall University, where I don’t lecture so much as facilitate learning teams for two of its graduate programs.  These students are peers, yet they come from different backgrounds, experiences and vocations.  Together, we create an environment of trust, and the students soon discover they learn as much from one another as they do from their instructor/facilitator.   They also develop a culture of shared responsibility and accountability which only elevates the quality of the learning experience.   It’s a dynamic setting that creates true abundance.  That said, because of the new material we introduce to the students, we tend to lead these student learning teams as more expert than peer.

All of this made me think about Bill George’s book, True North Groups.  Bill George reminds us that the word facilitate means “to make easier.”  The more I’ve talked to our Chairs, the more I’ve come to realize that we have to consider what are we making easier and for whom?  At Vistage, we essentially lead two types of CEO groups.  One is comprised of CEOs leading companies $5 million and higher (CE Groups) while the other consists of business owners who lead companies in the $1 million – $5 million range (SB Groups).  So if you ask the question about whether our Vistage Chairs lead as peers or experts, one quickly comes to conclusion that it depends on the needs of the group.

To generalize a bit, the Vistage Chair who leads an SB group is more likely to facilitate that group in a manner that leans toward expert.  Many of these business leaders are either trying to stabilize their businesses or take them to the next level of size and sophistication.  To do so, they not only depend on their fellow members, but also on the expertise of their Chair.  In the CE Group, Chairs lead CEOs who are far more experienced, so they are faced with a different set of complex challenges.  Here, Chairs tend to lead more as peer.  In either situation it’s always a balance. It’s never 100% one or the other, but striking that balance and getting every drop of value for the members based on their needs and expectations is one of the key the differences between a garden variety facilitator and a Vistage Chair.  Our Chairs are what make Vistage, Vistage.

*Note:  After spending a great deal of time with about 450 Vistage Chairs from all over the world at our International Conference in Dallas, it’s hard not to be inspired to write about the great work they do.  I hope some of our Chairs read this post and offer their comments on this topic – a topic about which I can only scratch the surface without their help.

Category: Leadership

Tags:  , , , , , ,

About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

Learn More

  1. "Long Island" Steve Ramerini

    February 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    A Chair is a mentor, friend, coach, Rabbi, Priest, butt kicker, confident, crucible, sounding board, orchestra leader, mild mannered reporter, super hero, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, great listener, reconciler, connector, builder, planter, harvester, shaman, leader and above all else is the one person who will look you square in the eyes and say, “those aren’t nice threads you’re wearing, you are butt naked my friend!”.

    • Tony Lewis

      February 11, 2013 at 6:20 pm

      “Kansas City Kid” Tony Lewis
      The Vistage Chair is also an “Equal” as well as a “Peer” to the CEO member. For that reason we take a trusting journey with the members to a “Shared Destiny” in which we and the other members can say “Time Out” any where along that journey. As Mark Twain said: “It ani’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, but what you know that just ain’t true.”

      • Love the distinction you draw between equal and peer!

    • Steve, that’s a lot of hats!

    • "Mile High" Janet Fogarty

      February 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      Perhaps for the folks who have not experienced the support and guidance of a Chair leading a peer group (i.e. those self managed groups) it might help to picture it. Chairs are somewhat like Personal Trainers. They help you get clarity on the goal, purpose, etc and then keep you on course, push you and have your back. Chairs also hold the “flashlight” and help a CEO or business owner identify, face, cope with and influence the unknown. Chairs help leaders when their plans collide with reality.

  2. Vistage Best Practice Chair, Jean Lauterbach offered this comment:

    What strikes me as the greatest contribution of a chair is somewhere between a peer and a facilitator. It’s the space where wisdom lies – wisdom that comes from not presuming to have the right answer so much as listening well enough (and with no
    preconceived agenda) to have the next question. Our members usually have the answers somewhere inside them, and patient, intentional listening will help them
    discover those answers and find the courage to make the hard decisions.

    • Vistage Best Practice Chair, Bill Oyler commented on Jean’s post calling it “elegant and on target” and added this:

      In addition, a Chair is the person who consciously understands how to create the right environment where a member feels compelled to enter into a conversation, unlike most they’ve had elsewhere, where they want to be transparent and vulnerable because they know they will be truly heard and probed for deeper clarity where ego disappears in the search for excellence and more. A Chair choreographs group energy such that safety exists for this transparency and vulnerability to be maintained from the 121 meeting into the group meeting and facilitates group think around members’ opportunities and challenges.

  3. A Chair is a true friend, a partner, a committed listener, a provocateur, a pace setter, someone to laugh with, sometimes be annoyed by, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. A Chair facilitates mutual trust, respect and safety. A Chair creates a larger paradigm for each person to discover and grow their unique leadership and develop clarity about their true calling. A Chair is an everyday human being who has discovered the true joy in service.

  4. Phil Liebman, Group Chair

    February 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    As a Chair I am a catalyst. My job is to help lead and ideally accelerate a reaction ( to opportunities, challenges, changes or new observations about present realities) in order to produce better outcomes than would otherwise be the case – and do so without becoming part of the solution or final product. It is a way to leverage the power of people working unselfishly to a common purpose to make propels lives and the world a richer place. For me it’s about the power to help people understand that they can change what they want – and certainly what they must, first I thief company, then in their life and ultimately their communities and the world. I then renew and start the next reaction, then the next and the next. I see myself as both peer and expert – the same as I see every member in my groups.

  5. Bob Dabic

    February 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Interesting question. I believe that our highest-performing “Champion” chairs come from four powerful States of BEING: “Carefrontational” (confronting members with care), Assertive (providing strong leadership direction at member one-to-one and group meetings), Vulnerable (creating a safe place for members to be “real”), and Explorational (asking questions versus giving prescriptive answers)! When the behaviors indicated are exhibited in alignment with those BEING States, members are able to gain a new Awareness on a topic, and thus uncover more Choices to deal with it; which will hopefully prompt more enlightened Actions, resulting in much
    Better Results!!

  6. ozzie gontang

    March 6, 2013 at 12:06 am

    Date Tue, 21 Dec 1999 16:02:50 -0700

    From ozzie.gontang@vistage.com

    Subject Code 5 Why am I a TEC Chair?

    I was asked by a Chair candidate why I was a TEC Chair.

    Where else could I have an extended community that is committed to
    growth, change and to enhancing my life and increasing my
    effectiveness. And with that growth and change I am continually
    introduced to men and women who are like me but dissimilar. Like me, in
    their uniqueness and dissimilar in their uniqueness.

    Where else could I have an extended community of individuals whose
    purpose is to create for me a place of safety, support and challenge.
    Where else can I have the gamut of human feelings and emotions expressed
    so that they can be stretched even more. Where else can I be challenged
    to realize that life is about the green and growing.

    I bring to this College of Chairs and the people who support us the
    belief and knowledge that should any one of us need help, information,
    insight, reflection, consoling, an alternative perspective, a piece of
    wisdom or hard learned experience, it is a phone call, a fax, an email, a
    walk away.

    I am here because of you. I am here for you. I am because you are. I
    am appreciative of you and who you are. For without you and what you do
    and who you are, I would not be able to be who I am doing what I do.

    Thank you, each and every one who make up this myth, this fiction called
    TEC. For it is with you that I continue to recall: If you want to
    know the future, Create it.” As Pat Murray and others would say: It is
    the vessel or vehicle in which I sail to the outer shores and horizons
    of human relating. It is in this life and livelihood that the fierce
    conversations are crafted. With others. And often alone.

    I share with you the future. The poem that goes with this note comes
    from my heart through the hands and soul of my youngest daughter:

    “This was written with you both in mind while I was home… Thank you
    and I’m forever grateful in your helping to polish my heart. It was so
    nice to come home and re-focus. I was definitely in need of a dose of
    family. I saw this card (Le Petit Prince carried aloft by a flock of
    doves) and it symbolized much of what’s going on in my life. The prince
    could be going away from home, going back or solely be going on a
    trip. Whatever happens is a learning experience. I’ve always known

    Love, Luck, and Lollipops, Allison”

    Your Name

    by Allison Gontang

    I found my heart the other day

    Like a tumbling stone

    It continues to be polished.

    Mind you, however,

    Not to perfection

    But to understanding

    compassion, honesty, integrity

    And Love.

    Each swirling name printed,

    smoothes into it

    Accepting it

    And loving its company

    I looked carefully

    and couldn’t help but notice

    Printed in large letters

    Your name

    So my fellow Chairs, in tribute to you, I realize that you are like a
    woodcarver who brings out of the wood what was already there. May you
    continue to carve on the heart, mind and spirit of yourself and all
    those whose lives you touch. May you bring out what was already there
    but needed to be freed.

    My gift and wish for you the rest of your life

    In friendship and the collegiality of TEC,


    Austin “Ozzie” Gontang, Ph.D.

    Chairman, TEC 29, est. 1986

    San Diego, CA

  7. I am not a chair. I am a business consultant specializing in teamwork and group dynamics. I admire their work. They must be dedicated, talented facilitators with a high level of emotional intelligence and presence.

    One challenge that I see now is how diverse our senior teams are becoming, rich in differences: race, sex, culture, etc. Balancing all of this so that all voices are heard as the group moves through inclusion and control towards openness adds tremendous value. Best to all of you. More of this work is certainly needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *