Leveraging the Power of Peers

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review lauded the positive influence that peers can play. Peers were cited as the “single most neglected level of change.” A true group of peers exerts an even greater force for change which is why these groups have been so successful for most. Many high performing organizations such as Southwest Airlines and Apple have turned to internal peer groups in recent years to help develop their leaders.

For those in family business, peer groups can be a highly effective means of vetting ideas, seeking confidentiality and bench-marking their business against others. A well-formed peer group is assembled with careful detail to insure that all have something to contribute as well as take away from each meeting. While the advice an owner or business leader receives in a peer group is non-binding, the power of the peer relationship eventually calls for some level of action.  Coming to the group month after month with the same persistent issue is rarely tolerated.

There are many other peer groups or quasi-advisory boards that vie for an individual’s time. These can be very local, regional or even virtual. Joining a group is a matter of your ability to invest the time and capacity to be sure you get the most out of your experience.   Beware of groups that may be too large or transient (members continually changing) as it will affect the level of confidentially you will experience in a group. In my experience, we have found that smaller groups (6-8 members) tend to yield a higher level of dialog, accountability and return on investment. Having a professional facilitator keeps the discussions and agenda on track from meeting to meeting.

What a peer group isn’t? What a peer group is?
Sales leads

Gripe session

Dirty laundry airing

A free-for-all


Peer pressuring










The number one trigger which causes an executive or business leader to join a peer group is the realization that it is lonely at the top, and even on the way to the top. For those aspiring to leadership in their firms, sharing that journey with others is fundamentally important. The individuals I have worked with have indicated that the most valuable aspects of being in their peer groups was an increased understanding of the management of the business, improved communication with other family members, and the associations of other interesting family businesses.

At the Smith Family Business Initiative, we have two such peer groups.

  1. Global Emerging Leaders in Family Enterprise – this two-week summer leadership program assembles global business peers to delve into family enterprise, entrepreneurship and global business.
  2. Cornell Family Business Network – forming in the summer or 2016, recent alumni will gather virtually to further their understanding of their role in the family enterprise, whether currently working in the business or not.

On Tuesday, May 10, from 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EDT, we will offer a free webinar to explore this topic further. Registration is required.


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