At the end of last year, I wrote a number of pieces about the power of peer advisory groups including a post titled, Peer Advisory Groups: What Do You Believe?, and I’ve enjoyed continuing the conversation this year. My fascination with the subject led me to the book True North Groups by Bill George and Doug Baker. If you share the beliefs (or at least most of them) outlined in my post, you’ll likely find True North Groups as enriching as I did.
Last month, I reached out to one of the book’s authors, Bill George. As you may know, Bill is the former CEO of Medtronic and a professor at Harvard Business School. He generously agreed to answer some questions about his book and the power of peer advisory groups for our Executive Street community.
LB: Bill, thanks for joining us on Executive Street. Would you define True North Groups for us?
BG: A True North Group is a small group of peers who meet on a regular basis to talk personally and privately about the most important things in their lives: their beliefs, values, hopes, fears, and the challenges they are facing. In True North Groups we outline the kinds of people you would want in your group, how to form it, creating the norms that enable it to be effective, and dealing with the inevitable difficulties the group will run into.
LB: When did you personally discover the power of these groups?
BG: I formed my first True North Group back in 1975, although we didn’t call it that back then. We have eight guys who have met every Wednesday morning from 7:15-8:30 for the last thirty-six years. My wife and I also formed a couples group in 1983 with three other couples that meets monthly. These people have become our very best friends.
LB: You note that your field research revealed that participation in small groups is gaining traction. Why do you believe this is the case?
BG: People are looking for a place where they can be open and honest in a confidential setting. One of the most common concerns among leaders is loneliness – who can I talk to, who can I trust, where can I have an honest conversation about what I am really feeling. Many people would answer that question, “no where.” Yet a True North Group provides precisely that opportunity for deeply honest conversations about the really important issues in life.
LB: In your book, you refer to Dr. Kathyrn Williams’ assertion that “For the development of leaders, or people, group work is the best technique.” What are some of the key reasons you believe this is so?
BG: In a small group you get candid and honest feedback from people who care about you and have nothing to gain from you. It’s often hard to do that in the workplace or even in your family. That feedback helps build your self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-confidence – all qualities you must have to be an effective leader of people
LB: Finally, you offer some guidance regarding the ideal group member. How does one know if he/she would be an ideal group member? How would I know if starting or joining a peer advisory group is right for me?
BG: The best way is to get together with a small group of friends and give it a try. Start by sharing your life stories, the difficulties you have faced, and your hopes and dreams. You’ll be amazed about how doing so will build your confidence and enable your group to bond.
LB: Bill, thank you again for sharing your insights with us. For more information about Bill George and Truth North Groups, click on the links provided within the interview and get yourself a copy of the book. It’s terrific!