By Andy Ramirez, Director of Interactive Marketing, Vistage
If you had asked me what Vistage was in November of 2009 I would hopefully have told you I had no idea. If you had prodded me to guess I’m sure I would have given you some attempt at a highbrow reply involving having a good view of the future.
The truth is that I didn’t know what Vistage was, but I did understand the concept. I’ve spent enough time in my career with executives that seek out CEO peer groups, or CEO coaches, to know that it is much different to be at the top. You live every day trying to look like you’re a CEO, to look like you know what you’re doing. You can’t turn to your employees with doubts because to them doubt means their futures are at risk. Even when I ran a VERY small business in San Diego, I sought out business networking groups, partly to network with business owners. Another part of why I went to those networking groups was to run my ideas by as many people as possible so that I could see if any of them elicit that “dreaded grimace”. You know the look, the grimace that tells you that the idea you just shared is not just a bad one, it’s downright embarrassing. That’s the big secret right there isn’t it? Fear of being embarrassed, fear of looking foolish.
After being at Vistage a few months as the Director of Interactive Marketing I was sure I could have described a Vistage group and a group meeting with an almost poetic clarity. Amazing how quickly we sometimes come to think we know it all.
Last week this notion of “knowing” what a Vistage group meeting was all about was outright DESTROYED. I had no idea what it was really like to be in a CEO peer group. I had no idea what it was like to have a Vistage Chair get to the heart of an issue. I had no clue the depth of reality a person has to face in a Vistage group.
Let me explain, last week Vistage Headquarters here in San Diego sponsored a full-day training event for all employees called “Experience Vistage”. Simple concept, do in a day what a real Vistage group does once every month. The morning started with Vistage speaker Dave Logan giving a fantastic speech describing Tribal Leadership. I’m not going to try to explain the concept because I’ll just mess it up. To find out more buy the book Tribal Leadership or see this article that describes Dave Logan’s five stages of corporate culture. Then we went into something Vistage calls “issue processing”. Yet another concept I thought was really simple—a group of leaders who understand each other get together monthly to coach each other through real-world issues until they are solved and everyone is happy. WRONG!!
Issue processing was brutal for me, because I’m such a guarded person. That guard broke down easily when I realized that everyone in a room is putting everything they have on the table. It made it clear that I can’t be the one who holds out. This honesty from everyone forced me to be “me”, and I mean honestly “me”, in front of people who I hadn’t known all my life. It’s the last thing I wanted and the thing I needed most. We picked a couple of fairly innocuous issues, issues that would be good examples to the uninitiated. At the end of processing the first issue I was so dumbfounded and blown away by how much somebody else’s issue forced me to evaluate myself that I needed to leave the room. I realized that it wasn’t about just helping that person; it was about realizing that learning from what that person is going through means much to my success. That other people’s ideas, issues, problems are not new concepts in this world and they can all apply to me if I check my ego at the door and get involved in their results. I took a break to let it settle in; I was unprepared to face myself in that way. The second issue was completely different than the first and not any easier. By the end of the day I left much like I’m sure most CEOs leave their group meetings, wanting to change everything about the way I do business.
I wanted more. I wanted to come back every month and show people what I had done differently because of their issues. I wanted to find more issues that could help make me a better manager. Believe it or not, I wanted to be me, and face me.
So if somebody asks me to explain what a Vistage group meeting is about now I’m going to start by saying, I can explain the concept, but I can’t ever describe what it’s like, that you will have to experience.
There is no reason for any CEO or business owner to not be in a peer group. More importantly a group that is led by a Vistage Chair, a seasoned veteran whose only focus is your success. Without the Chair my experience would not have been nearly as powerful. You get so much clarity of mind and insight into your own challenges from just this small part of being a Vistage member. Yes, issue processing sessions are just one aspect of what Vistage does. They provide sessions between just you and the Chair once a month that dig just as deep into your specific needs. Vistage has great speakers on a regular basis for groups. They also have an online social network called Vistage Village that all Vistage members (14K + worldwide) have access to. If I were in the position of a potential member I don’t think they’d have any trouble getting me to sign up after what I experienced.