Life at the top can be lonely for a CEO.

But it is decidedly less so for forward-thinking CEOs who join forces once a month with other members of their peer group to delve confidentially into the issues and challenges they each face at their respective companies.

CEOs or business owners step into their roles with strong executive or entrepreneurial backgrounds, but are often unprepared for the daunting responsibility and potential isolation that comes with leading an organization, large or small. Few ever went to CEO school.

The role of CEO is so different from others in terms of overall responsibility. The buck stops right here in the CEO’s office. As CEO, you can make or break the company and there's no one else to blame if it doesn't go well. So it's immensely beneficial to have a safe haven of fellow CEOs who have varying backgrounds, tons of experience and whose only vested interest is your success.

A CEO peer group can serve as a sounding board for dealing with problems, including decision making, handling difficult employees and setting direction for the company. While these groups may seem like an activity viable only for large corporations, their benefits extend to small business as well.

Many CEOs have been burned by trying to use trusted employees as sounding boards. Problem is that human nature drives everyone to present themselves in the most positive light and evaluate ideas based on how they perceive they will be affected by those ideas.
The resulting lesson is that, when you're the CEO, you must be very careful what you share with your direct reports and the rest of your organization. If you’re uncertain about the strategic direction of the organization, it's not something you want to talk about casually inside the organization.

It is also the case that organizational structures often inhibit the ability of people to talk to one another. It is important for people, especially CEOs to have this human interaction. CEO peer groups offer a safe place for people in similar situations to talk to each other. The experience can often be eye-opening and enlightening and group members reap several benefits.

First, CEO peer groups provide exposure to a diverse and varied range of experiences. You might be surprised at how relevant the issues of a CEO from a different industry or region can be to your business. The group also gives you the opportunity to present individual challenges or dilemmas to individuals who can provide a unique and fresh perspective. A broad spectrum of perspectives is one of the most prominent benefits these groups have to offer.

Secondly, the time spent in your CEO peer group or forum gives you a chance to discuss strategy, vision, and the big picture. You spend enough time worrying about day-to-day issues while interacting inside your organization, so it’s important to seize the opportunity to discuss and analyze broader issues with your peers. Receiving honest input from multiple sources in your CEO peer group can help you gain true clarity about your company, your industry and the market as a whole. Clarity of this magnitude simply isn’t achievable acting alone from within the narrow view of your individual business. Small businesses especially can fall victim to getting too wrapped up in day-to-day issues to focus any attention on the big picture. Don't miss the chance to zoom out and analyze your company from a broader perspective.

Finally, CEO peer groups work to create a network of trust and accountability for your professional life. It would be naive to think that all members of these groups are entirely honest with each other, but when openness is extended by all parties, a very unique climate can be established. It is both liberating and energizing to experience the encouragement, honesty, and accountability of your business peers when sharing week-by-week developments and exploring what ideas from a previous meeting worked and which ones flopped. And, by encouraging others to do the same you'll find that competitiveness quickly takes a back seat to collaboration.

CEO peer groups are an excellent outlet for a small business CEO to share and learn. With a diverse range of perspectives, a chance to step back and see the big picture, and a climate of honesty and accountability, you can utilize these groups to take your organization and professional career to the next level.

Becoming a member of a group is a commitment of time and money. It is also a commitment to listening and to sharing one’s experience and insight. Given the immense returns, they are commitments well worth making. Unleash your secret weapon by attending our next CEO Roundtable to see for yourself.