Are you a CEO or COO at a small to medium-sized company? It’s critical that you still look for ways to improve your skills, expand your industry knowledge, and widen your network.
After all, you are investing in your employees by providing them with training so they can advance in their roles. Just because you are the CEO or COO, does not mean that you cannot benefit from professional growth yourself.
Among the most popular ways that CEOs can both connect with others in similar roles and widen their industry expertise is by joining a peer group.
Richard Franzi has written a book, Critical Mass: The 10 Explosive Powers of CEO Peer Groups. He cited reasons why a CEO should join a peer group. Forbes reported that the reasons include:
- Haven – Safe environment to talk through confidential issues.
- Solid reasoning – Get a perspective different from your own.
- Real feedback – Advice from individuals whose perspective you respect.
- Guidance, motivation, illumination – All of these can help the CEO work through issues.
“Most executives who join a CEO peer group stay in the program,” Franzi told Forbes. Franzi estimates the renewal rate to be 80%. “The reason they remain are as varied as the individual members. But the power of the process is undeniable.”
Peer Groups for CEOs
Young Presidents’ Organization
The Young Presidents’ Organization is a global leadership organization for more than 27,000 chief executives in over 130 countries. It describes itself as a “global platform for them to engage, learn, and grow. YPO members harness the knowledge, influence, and trust of the world’s most influential and innovative business leaders to inspire business, personal, family, and community impact.”
One member, Charles B. Housen, president of Erving Paper Mills, a family-owned business based in Erving, Mass., told Inc. magazine about YPO, “It tailors itself to deal with the young, high-energy, successful entrepreneur. That's who they're trying to nurture, and they do a good job of it." Housen joined because of the benefits he derives from getting together with other young presidents.
Many members, like Housen, regard the YPO affiliation as the most valuable of their business career. He told Inc., "I think I'd still be running a relatively small company if it weren't for YPO. My growth was certainly enhanced because I found out that what used to be a mystique, wasn't.”
Entrepreneurs’ Organization EO
EO is the only peer group created exclusively for entrepreneurs. It helps entrepreneurs grow through peer group learning and connection to experts. Its members tend to be young (on average, 43 years old) and run businesses averaging $5 million in sales, with an average of 294 employees.
Ryan Villanueva, co-founder of Best Delegate, a growing education company, said, “mentorship is valuable because a big part of successful business ownership comes from experience. It's challenging to learn the nuances of business ownership in a book or from a class--it's not an intellectual exercise. The critical knowledge you need comes from going through the ups and downs of running a business.”
Among its offerings are an EO Accelerator Program designed as an incubator for startups from $250k - $1M in revenues, to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Dave Benton, Interactive Creative Director of Metajive, a digital marketing firm, said, “Joining EO Accelerator …completely changed the way I look at my business. Going into EO, I thought my business was streamlined but it was only aerodynamic because it was missing critical pieces. The tools that Accelerator gave me has enabled me to optimize my business structure. EO has helped me refine my management style and take the bigger picture into account.”
Vistage International is a peer mentoring membership organization for CEOs, business owners, and executives of small- to mid-size businesses.
One of its services that CEOs can most benefit from is a Vistage peer advisory group. It gives small and mid-size business leaders a sounding board. The peer group consists of 12-18 high-performing CEOs, business owners and key executives who address each other’s challenges.
Membership in Vistage International also gives CEOs a chance to attend workshops and lectures about topics of interest. They also become part of a network of C-suite leaders who can connect to offer each other strategic business advice.
Peer Groups for COOs
The COO Forum
There are professional development groups for Chief Operating Officers (COOs), too.
The COO Forum is a professional growth organization designed for Second-in-Command Executives: Chief Operating Officers, Operating CFOs, General Managers, Divisional Presidents, Operating CIOs, and Executive Vice Presidents.
The organization’s goals are like those of peer group organizations for CEOs: it encourages peer learning, professional development, and tackles industry-wide problems with conferences, lectures, and workshops.
COOs appreciate being able to share their concerns with their peers, who know what it is like to be second-in-command, and often in charge of getting things done at a company.
“[COOs] need to be adept at both the big picture and the day-to-day details, and everything in between,” said Milena Higgins, COO of Minneapolis-based legal services provider Black Hills IP told Finance-Commerce. “That comes with inherent tensions in straddling those worlds,”
Adam Kaplan, former COO and Founder of Kaplan Executive Search, leads the Detroit chapter of The COO Forum.
"COOs tend to be introverts who are dedicated to the business, get in early, and stay late. I have been leading the Detroit COO Forum for over two years now, and our members really appreciate getting out of the office once a month and improving their COO capabilities. One key business insight makes their time and investment worth it."
Volunteer for an Industry Committee
Another way that CEOs and COOs can expand their networks and improve their professional development is by volunteering for an industry committee.
These executives can benefit by bringing their expertise to bear on industry issues and joining a committee that addresses both local and national topics.
One such committee is the NCIA Human Resources Committee, of which, our CEO, Adam Kaplan is a proud member of. The committee is composed of Human Resource practitioners devoted to bringing best practices to the cannabis industry. Their focus is education and bringing awareness to misclassification of employees. They also promote guidelines for employee safety, clarification on wage issues in the industry, and creating checklists for legitimate employers.
One example of such a committee is the Innovation Committee of the Federal CIO Council, which works on governmental information resources. The Innovation Committee helps agencies to speed up the adoption of new practices, processes, and technologies.
The CEO of MovingWorld.org, Mark Horoszoswki, talked about the benefits of volunteering as a Chief Executive Officer in a piece in the HuffingtonPost.com. He stated:
“There is something truly powerful about volunteering that gives me more energy than any other activity. When volunteering in roles where you can make an impact, you see that no matter who you are, people are grateful for your presence. And no matter your quality of work, people appreciate your efforts. It’s a way of reconnecting to the fun of doing meaningful work,” the CEO stated.
“In addition to emotional strength, volunteering provides something even more valuable: effectiveness. When you engage in skills-based volunteering projects, you get to see how other leaders lead. You get to problem solve in new environments. You get to work with different teams in different ways. All of these make you better at doing your job.
“Volunteering allows me to learn from others, try new techniques and be more innovative by immersing myself in other work environments,” Horoszowski concluded.
Volunteer to Serve on a Non-Profit Board or Join a Mentoring Program
Another way to develop your professional skills as a CEO or COO is to volunteer as a board member for a nonprofit in your community. There are many nonprofits that need board members from the business world, and if you are skilled at organizational strategy, finances, or human development, you can contribute a lot to a local group.
Be sure to do your homework before volunteering to a nonprofit, and obviously, choose one whose mission fits your own interests: for example: Local chapters of The Nature Conservancy if you are an environmentalist or The Humane Society if you love animals. Find out what the time commitment is, and make sure your schedule will allow that you attend meetings regularly and have the capacity to do your share of the work. You will find that you can be of service to your community through board service, and meet other executives from your local area, which will expand your network.
You will increase your skill set and learn about the challenges nonprofits face related to governance, finance, fundraising and hiring the right people.
You might also join a mentoring program in your community. If your alma mater, whether college, graduate school or high school, is local, you may find that they need mentors or advisors for students interested in business. Or, you may join a group like Big Brothers or Mentor, to give back to young people who need a stable, successful role model in their lives.
If you are a CEO or COO who wants to grow professionally and learn a great deal from your peers, consider joining a peer group, volunteering or joining a nonprofit board. These activities will reap you unexpected benefits, connect you with exciting executives, and energize you to perform your responsibilities more effectively. In short, by giving, you will receive a lot more in return.
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