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The Year of the Peer: Vistage CEO Sam Reese unpacks the peer advantage

There is a simple truth in the world of business: Who you surround yourself with matters.

This is the premise of author and speaker Leo Bottary’s video podcast The Year of the Peer. For Bottary, a CEO or key executive’s accomplishments are the result of the peer advantage — the advice one has elicited from trusted peers and advisors. Conversely, a CEO’s lack of direction or success can be attributed to a dearth of true and credible insiders.

In his podcast conversation with Vistage CEO Sam Reese, (above) Bottary brought Reese back to his days as a Vistage member, and asked him to share some of the ways a peer advisory group changed his approach to making good decisions for his business.

A few observations on the power of a peer advisory group from Bottary and Reese:


  • It’s not all affirmations.  Reese recalls how at the beginning of his tenure as CEO for Miller Heiman, he would run ideas past business acquaintances, coworkers and other key executives he knew. “If I just grab you to go out to lunch because we used to be collegues, I’m going to tell you what I think, and you are going to say ‘Sounds good, Sam. You are a good decision-maker.’ Right?” But Reese found that in a Vistage peer group, members painstakingly get to know the real you and they offer genuine, sometimes unpopular feedback, not just affirmation. Reese says that peers go from a place of affirmation to a place of exploration — where the group members’ input forces one to explore all possible alternatives in each decision.
  • There may be more than two choices. As Reese says, a peer group can really show you that in any decision, there may be an and, not always just an or. “I can say that I am looking to decide between A and B. But the group informs you that there is C, D and E also,” he said. “There are other ways to think about this.”
  • Peers vet your decisions the way subordinates cannot. According to Bottary, when a CEO is struggling with a decision, peers can get to the heart of it. Why is this getting to you so much? Why is this so difficult for you? And all of the sudden, now you are exploring issues and having people ask questions. “It’s not like your subordinates are going to ask you those kinds of questions, ” Bottary said. “But in this forum, it seems like that is where you can get to the heart of a lot of things.”
  • Valuable insights come from outside your industry and company type. Reese noted that as a CEO one of his challenges was resisting the impulse to be singularly focused on his own industry. A peer group made up of CEOs from myriad industries can be a wellspring of fresh ideas that could work well. This synergy also occurs regardless of the company’s bottom line. “It might be a $100 million company listening to a $5 million company that has a better marketing idea,” he said.
  • Peers allow you to tap your experience to give back. Reese recalled a turning point in his tenure as a Vistage member where he became inspired by the reciprocity of the group dynamic. “When I started to find out my rhythm of where I could help other CEOs, then It got really exciting. Not only am I getting help, now I’m able to bring my expertise to the table,” he said.
  • The hangover. The Vistage Hangover, that is. In the days following his monthly Vistage meeting, Reese’s team would recognize a new enthusiasm and fervor to his purpose. “My team started calling it The Vistage Hangover. ‘Oh, Sam’s back! He’s got the Vistage Hangover.’ And they would be ready for new ideas coming at them.


Read more on this topic: The role of cognitive diversity in decision-making

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