As we get back to work after the long Labor Day weekend, and a glorious summer, (at least here in Seattle), I got to thinking about why we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. I had two similar conversations with clients this week who were somewhat dumbfounded when I asked a few questions to get them to see what was happening right in front of them, but they were blind to. I gave them the view from my perspective and it completely changed the “filter” they had on the subject. Questioning their answers led to better answers.
This is what is so valuable about getting an outside perspective in business. It allows us to see things from a different viewpoint, or in some cases, see something we didn’t even see at all. As a leader, it’s imperative that you have a resource for this. Larger companies have a Board of Directors who question your perspective, give input on strategic direction, and act as guardians of the company, and therefore the shareholders. (Yes, I know this line is often blurred…). In smaller companies it is more typical to have an Advisory Board that has no real authority but does provide that outside perspective and sounding board for the leader or leadership team to use as a resource. Advisory Board opinions are non-binding and the members have no stake in the enterprise so you are likely to get unfiltered advice, albeit you are still “paying them to play.”
Truly unfiltered and “free” perspectives can be had by joining a peer advisory group of some sort. These are groups of your peers, other CEOs or Senior Executives that join a confidential group to get differing viewpoints from their peers. These can be formal or informal groups whose sole purpose is to help each leader become better at what they do and grow their company and their people. Most charge a fee and it varies depending upon the level of support you are getting. So although members pay to belong to a group, you are not paying them, which frees up their opinions. Large and small companies alike can benefit from “different” thinking. Remember that old saying that the problem can’t be solved with the same level of thinking that got you into the mess in the first place? That’s what peer advisory does for you.
I teach a class for the Small Business Administration through Interise for small businesses who want to grow and even in this classroom setting, peer learning happens. Students often think “they were the only one” with this problem or issue and low and behold, regardless of industry or education level, they are not alone. So next time you think about your business, your strategic plan, or a solution you are sure is a winner, think about the value of that outside perspective. It’s worth investing in.