Why every CEO needs a peer advisory group

The job of a CEO is never easy, but it’s even harder while navigating through a global pandemic. Your make-or-break decisions are impossible without all the skills, diverse perspectives and available data. You probably receive no shortage of advice from your staff, friends and even your spouse, but it might not be the best guidance for your situation.

“When you’re facing the big decisions, it can feel lonely,” says executive coach Jason Thompson in “Fueling Growth Through Strategic Peer Partnerships.” “One of the best ways to gain outside perspective is to understand how you can leverage a peer advisory group to improve decision-making.” More than just an executive network, a peer advisory group is a forum where fellow CEOs can give and receive objective feedback from fellow executives who’ve dealt with similar experiences.

The concept has been around for decades, but it’s been gaining steam since the pandemic. In The CEO moment: Leadership for a new era, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company says that one way CEOs are transforming the way they lead is by harnessing the power of their peer networks. They are reaching out and talking to each other more now than ever, the article notes. With so much hanging in the balance, there’s an even greater need to make better decisions with greater accuracy and speed. Quite simply, a peer advisory group provides a CEO with a competitive advantage.

This article will answer the questions: 


How do CEO peer advisory groups work?

A peer advisory group is an organized forum for fellow executives to come together and tap into each other’s insights and experiences. In these group settings, CEOs help one another with their toughest challenges, identify and pursue their most promising opportunities, and develop solutions for growth. Some groups have a layperson leading the discussion. Other groups rely on a facilitator with both C-suite experience and training as an executive coach. Discussions are fully confidential.

Peer advisory groups work best when there are noncompeting companies across multiple industries. “I realized the value of those objective outside perspectives. Those folks gave us the absolute best advice because they weren’t constrained by an institutional mindset,” says Dome Construction CEO Rob Lynch. Lynch invests in leadership development via professional peer groups not only for himself but for his employees at every level, from high-potential frontline workers and managers to key executives.

Why do CEOs need a peer advisory group?

By engaging in a peer advisory group, CEOs can focus on improving their leadership style, decision-making and goal-setting with an objective perspective, enabling them to outperform the competition. And both business leaders and coaches agree that peer groups provide tremendous value:

1. You don’t know what you don’t know

“You cannot Google, ‘What am I not doing that I should be doing?’ This is the essential question that gets addressed at every meeting,” says Brian Lauducci, CEO of Paylock IPT.

2. They help identify blind spots

In “2 Questions for Revealing Your Leadership Blind Spots,” business strategist AmyK Hutchens says part of the difficulty of seeing our blind spots is because they hide just behind our strengths. Peers can recognize your blind spots and your strengths.

3. They push you

When I challenge my CEOs, they thank me for challenging their thinking, because they don’t often get challenged in their roles, says executive coach Julie Couret.

4. They hold you accountable.

“They hold me accountable,” says Armond A. Dinverno, President of Balasa Dinverno Foltz LLC. “They act as my external board of directors, challenging my thinking. They have helped me achieve a 20 times growth rate of our company since I joined.”

5. They help make sure you’re solving the right problem.

Much like blind spots, human beings can be bad observers of their own reality, often targeting merely a problem’s symptoms, says CEO coach Mark Taylor. A peer group and Chair can help you get to the root of a problem that needs to be addressed.

How do you find a CEO peer advisory group?

Consider what kind of engagement you may already be doing and how to be strategic in finding your peer group:

Approach 1: Connect with peers individually in person or online. Think of a LinkedIn kind of interaction.

Approach 2: Network online or at events in a more selective, purposeful attempt to advance personal and professional interests. Think of a local chamber of commerce mixer.

Approach 3: Work as a member of a homogenous team to bring a high level of excellence to achieving a common goal. Think of a tiger team working on a special project.

Approach 4: Collaborate with a group of fellow CEOs from diverse industries to help each other tackle tough business decisions, achieve lofty organizational goals and grow as leaders.

You should be doing all of these to achieve your specific business goals, of course, but Approach 4 is the most effective for consistent results. It’s the forum where everyone else has also devoted the time and resources to be the most intentional about each other’s problem-solving needs.

What are the benefits of CEO peer advisory groups?

1. Grow your business.

In a time when many CEOs have had to reduce staff or even go out of business, a peer advisory group can offer real-time advice and troubleshooting that produces impressive results.

In 2020, for example, Vistage CEO members grew their annual revenue on average by 4.6 percent in 2020, while nonmembers with comparable small-and-midsize businesses saw revenue decrease by 4.7 percent, according to a study of Dun & Bradstreet data.

2. Grow professionally.

In a group, you can accelerate your personal and professional growth by challenging your thinking while building your emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. Many CEOs find it easier to look inward or increase their self-awareness when they’re working with other leaders doing the same exercise.

3. Advance in leadership.

The relationships you create — and the perspectives that you gain — are invaluable, whether you’re a professional CEO, founder-turned-CEO, or leading a second-generation family business. Peer advisory groups enable you to more effectively reach your fullest potential, fueling growth that would otherwise be unattainable.

How do CEO peer advisory groups work?

While different organizations may have different approaches, Vistage focuses on four areas:

1. The Matchup

We match you up with a private peer advisory group of 12-16 business leaders from noncompeting companies, and across all industries. Your peers will have a comparable level of accomplishment, hold a similar role in the organization as you and run companies of about the same size.

2. The Chair

Each group has an executive coach, also known as a Vistage Chair. Each Chair guides the peer advisory group and provides one-to-one mentoring for each CEO. Vistage Chairs have real-world experience, either as C-suite executives or as business owners. And they have overcome challenges like yours during their careers.

3. The Meeting

Your peer group will hold purposeful and interactive meetings that can help members clarify their issues and identify solutions effectively and efficiently. Discussions are candid, safe and confidential. Chair will also bring in expert speakers to present workshops and help spark new ideas.

4. The Network

Your peer group will link you to industry- and interest-specific networks that connect you to a global network online and at in-person events. These networks supplement your peer advisory group and are a great resource for you as you seek help with specific challenges and expand your network.

A matter of growth

The upshot is that CEOs need to seek diverse perspectives on critical decisions from trusted peers. These peers understand the nuances and challenges of the role but bring fresh perspectives, unhampered by institutional knowledge. They help the CEO work to combat insular thinking and confirmation bias.

It’s a process that leads to professional growth, personal growth and business growth. Through coaching more than 100,000 executives over 60+ years, we have seen participants in peer advisory groups outperform their competition through boom markets and recession.

It’s an approach to leadership development that can change both the trajectory of your company and your life.

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