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Entrepreneurs: Hunting in a Farmer’s World

entrepreneurs

I find myself reading a lot about hunting these  days. First, I just finished Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. “A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen”. What could be better than that? This book is about the  Mexican Tamahumara Indians and their secrets to long distance running. The book is a page turner. My favorite quote is from a runner in his 90s who said “you don’t stop running because you get old; you get old because you stop running”.

One of the questions McDougall explores is The Running Man theory: whether humans were designed to run long distances. He cites research from evolutionary biologist Dennis Bramble, of the University of Utah, and Daniel Lieberman’s team at Harvard, that provides evidence, including unique human physical traits, that would confirm this theory.

I’ve also been slowly reading Lieberman’s Story of the Human Body. This book is part evolution of the human body and part healthy living book. I’ve really struggled with the dryness of evolution texts in the past but Lieberman has created a very interesting account. His thesis is that humans are experiencing so many diseases now because we did not evolve to deal with many of the environmental or lifestyle challenges facing us now. He does explain that while humans are not particularly fast or strong, we are designed to run long distances. As one example, the fact that we sweat rather than pant give us a unique advantage over other animals.

Even though Bramble & Liebermentrepreneursan provided a compelling argument that humans had many adaptions suited to running, the big question was “what advantage does the running man theory provide humans?” Their research found that humans became carnivorous well before sharp spears and bows and arrows were available. So, how did they track down their prey? Lieberman calls it “persistence hunting”. They literally run them to death. Even though their prey can significantly outrun humans for relatively short distances, they need to stop to recover. Humans are able to run long distances & this persistent pursuit is what enables them to ultimately overtake their prey.

Lieberman also addresses the transition from hunting to farming. It ultimately lead to our continually evolving culture which is where humans are now “evolving” most rapidly. But the transition to farming also introduced many health-related issues for humans. Jared Diamond called the transition to agriculture “the greatest mistake in the history of the human race”. Wow, that’s harsh! His position was based on farming leading  to a more restricted diet. Because of the narrow human diet, famine would cause starvation because we became so dependent on a limited diet. The other downside was that farming allowed humans to live closer together, which introduced the spread of infectious diseases.

The last book that I read in my hunting series is Hunters in a Farmers World by John Dini. Dini, a prolific writer and also a legendary TAB Business Owner, explains that present day entrepreneurs are the equivalent  of historical hunters. While “persistence hunting”, where a group of humans pursues their prey, may make it seem like all humans were hunters, clearly not all hunters were equal. Someone was leading the group of the hunt and directing each participant where to go. They were developing strategy and calling the shots to give the group the greatest chance of having dinner that night. These are the hunters Dini is referring  to. Hunters build the business; farmers run the business.

Hunters in a Farmers World is a multi-faceted book. On one hand, it is a celebration of entrepreneurs and the risks they’ve taken and the accomplishments they’ve made to our economy and the lives of others. Dini takes care throughout the book not to take the perspective of “hunters are good & farmers are not”. As a proud farmer myself, I found Dini’s perspective to be balanced. In  order for  a business to run successfully, it involves hunters and farmers working together in balance.

This book is not theory. It provides one real business example after another involving successful hunters. It also provides unsuccessful examples to teach how not to approach an opportunity. Unlike any other book that I’ve read on this subject, “Hunters” takes on the real issues that entrepreneurs face in starting and running their business. This book is clearly written by someone who is a hunter, has worked with many hunters and intimately understands the complexity of decision making facing hunters. For example, how do you compensate new sales people? What should your role as owner be in the day-to-day of the business? What loyalty should you have to your employees? And even, how much money should you be earning from the business?

Here are a few bits of wisdom for entrepreneurs that resonated with me:

  • Hunters don’t defend their failing solutions.
  • Hunters never quit. There are no defeats, only setbacks.
  • No one is really, really good at doing something he doesn’t like doing.
  • Successful hunters hunt. They decide what needs doing and they do it.
  • If owning your company is a lousy job, the uncomfortable reality is you made it that way.
  • Great employees make you money. Poor employees cost your money.

There’s one bit of wisdom after another throughout this interesting book. If you wonder whether you are a hunter or not – wonder no more. Read this book and it will become very clear. A great example of a hunter that Dini explains is Chaz Neely who had to sell his house twice in the interest of his business – the first to save it during the S&L crash in the 1980s & the second to grow it once he survived the recession. Now that is a hunter!


 

Leadership vs. Management: What’s the difference?

Leadership vs. ManagementIn recent years there’s been an ongoing debate in business circles regarding Leadership vs. Management. While the concept of visionary leadership has been trending positively, the once noble role of management has become somewhat maligned. But before you throw out your copy of (outdated management book name – any suggestions?), let’s get past the semantics and cut to the core of which traits realistically help business owners get the best results from their team.

What makes you a leader?

Let’s begin this analysis by defining what we mean by “leadership” as it relates to modern business owners and CEOs. The late management guru Peter Drucker wrote, “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.” In this regard, we will refer to private business owners or executives who are tasked with inspiring their direct reports – and consequently, the entire organization –  as leaders.

You might envision a dynamic business leader as someone who is full of charisma, with the ability to convince their team to line up behind them and accept orders. But as management author Tom Peters so eloquently put it,  “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

Convincing your staff that your vision is worth following is a key element. But rather than enforcing subordination, a gifted leader will seek to spread their message virally by empowering every department head to lead their own division with the same enthusiasm and dedication.

Employees often emulate the values and standards they see displayed in the actions of their leaders, so creating a company culture of integrity and mutual respect will strengthen a company from the top down. To expound on the importance of respect, David Scarola, vice president of The Alternative Board, spoke to journalist Nicole Fallon for a recent Fox Business article entitled 5 Leadership Weaknesses and How to Fix Them.

“The best leaders have learned that if they make the right decisions for their business, even if unpopular, and also take the time to explain their reasoning, they will earn the respect of their employees,” Scarola said. “In the long run, this is the best outcome a leader can aspire to.”

When did “management” become a bad word?

In some ways, visionary leaders are portrayed as the new heroes of the modern business era. But every hero needs a villain and, as the management vs. leadership discussion gained traction in business articles, managers were often portrayed in a less than favorable light. In other words, being a mere manager was seen as unfashionable or tied to the past, while striving to be a leader was admirable. But is this just semantics and the evolution of business language, or is there more to it?

Traditionally, many business managers ruled their subordinates based on fear and control, reward and punishment. As the psychology and technology of leadership evolved, the old ways became outmoded. Bosses who cling to the bully tactics of intimidation are becoming less common in the modern work environment.

While it is still important, and natural, to have an established hierarchy within certain organizations, the methods of getting the best results out of your staff have become less draconian. Certainly, managers are not all heavy-handed in the ways they impose their authority. In fact, a common managerial trait is the desire to not rock the boat.

According to an article at ChangingMinds.org entitled simply, Leadership vs. Management, “An interesting research finding about managers is that they tend to come from stable home backgrounds and led relatively normal and comfortable lives.” The piece goes on to clarify, “This leads them [managers] to be relatively risk-averse and they will seek to avoid conflict where possible. In terms of people, they generally like to run a ‘happy ship.’”

So for the purposes of this article, we will refer to managers as those who are appointed to a position of authority within a company and given a specific set of tasks to implement while overseeing a designated group of employees.

Analyzing the Differences Between Leaders and Managers

In what’s become one of the most socially-shared articles on leadership, Stanford professor Bob Sutton said, “I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management.”

In June, 2014, The Alternative Board surveyed 336 business owners to get a street-level view of what leadership actually looks like in practice. When asked what the most important trait was in terms of dealing with their employees, 63% of owners said their role was to inspire action. Yet when the same owners were asked which function matters most to running their company, 46% of participants identified accomplishing goals as most important vs. just 38% who said setting a vision comes first.

In other words, the real leaders feel their role is to inspire the team, yet realize that all of the motivational speeches in the world won’t mean a thing if their team doesn’t ultimately see successful results. This illustrates how a hybrid of forward-thinking leadership traits and a proven managerial skill set is likely the best combination for business owners to both inspire and provide for their organization.

Warren Bennis, author of Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, summed up the management vs. leadership distinction succinctly. “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion.”

This chart outlines the differences between leaders vs. managers:

leadership vs. management


Management vs. Leadership: What are the dangers of becoming one at the exclusion of the other?

While it’s obvious that eschewing modern leadership traits in lieu of an old-fashioned managerial style could put business owners behind the times, heading too far in the other direction has its drawbacks too.

As Bob Sutton put it in the aforementioned article, “Some leaders now see their job as just coming up with big and vague ideas, and they treat implementing them, or even engaging in conversation and planning about the details of them, as mere ‘management’ work that is beneath their station and stature.”

Also, not every business will be perfectly suited to implement the most forward-thinking leadership strategies. For example, Drake Baer recently reported in Business Insider how leaders like Virgin’s Richard Branson followed the lead of Netflix founder, Reed Hastings implementing a policy of unlimited vacation time for all salaried employees.

While this policy seems to be working for certain Silicon Valley tech startups like Netflix—who have been “rigmarole-free” since 2002—such liberal ideas may not play as well with all business institutions. The Business Insider piece also points out, “Slate writer Matthew Yglesias says that the only companies that would dare ‘offer unlimited vacation do so because they’re confident their employees won’t choose to take much time off.”

This comparison shows that in the leadership vs. management debate, there may be times where traditional, tried-and-true management systems work best in the short term. That’s not to say leaders should ever stop innovating and taking risks with potentially groundbreaking ideas. But as with many things in life, moderation is likely the key to finding the right balance between experimental leadership concepts and functional management practices.

However, for a company to truly rise above its competition risks must be taken. TAB CEO and President Jason Zickerman boldly states, “Visionary Leaders will look for the best thinking, not the safest. The most creative solutions, not the most cautious.”

How can you become a better leader?

Management vs. LeadershipVisionary leadership is not an exclusive club limited to the topmost members of organizations. It takes place at all levels, and can involve all people in an organization.

In his book, Scaling Up Excellence, Bob Sutton says, “Spreading and sustaining excellence depends on skilled leaders throughout an organization– not just the top dogs.”

Jason Zickerman has some specific advice for business owners in his newest white paper — “Forget no one in the company as you convey what’s ‘in it for them.’ Whether it’s someone doing research, analysis, administrative duties, sales or presentation development, your job is to make sure each person on the team sees, understands, accepts, knows and embraces what they can do personally to help achieve the vision. Then, you need to make them feel good about it.”

If you’re looking for additional resources on ways to improve your leadership techniques, the four business owner books TAB founder Allen Fishman penned will open your eyes to new ways of successfully running a business.

Better yet, explore how joining a TAB board will give you the benefit of learning from other business owners who know what you’re going through and know how to help you overcome obstacles to enjoy greater success!

What’s the Secret to Achieving Financial Freedom?

Do you have a long-term plan for financial growth? Without a plan, you will have stress. If your plan is high risk, you will have stress. Financial growth should be built on a long-term plan. Most of those who gamble for the quick riches in the stock market or other places live with a stress that makes it hard for them to focus on their business. A plan that looks many years in the future is the way to achieve freedom from financial concern so that decisions are not impacted by current financial needs.

How to achieve financial freedom

As a business owner, is there anyone who can say that he or she is personally successful without his or her company being successful? Do you know a business owner who could have a failing business and say “I’m successful” or “I’m happy?” I would guess the answer would be no because the owner’s business is integral to the owner’s happiness.

To have freedom from financial worry, you need the ability to meet financial emergency contingencies. You must not be desperate to make deals that are high risk.

One manufacturer took a contract with a large retailer that resulted in over 50 percent of his revenue coming from the retailer. He financed a major expansion of plant and equipment to serve the retailer. When the retailer switched to another supplier, he was hurt. Why did he take the risk? He did it because he said that it was his chance at big money.

Financial freedom is the ability to buy what you want without worrying about it. This is different for everyone. To some, this means tens of millions of dollars to buy planes. To others, it means taking great trips when you want. This will be determined by what is meaningful to you.

When you look at yourself, do you see a person who is managing his or her life or a person who reacts to challenges and opportunities without a plan for getting you where you want to be? Business owners starting up are rarely debt free. They are generally going to be personally guaranteeing loans for some of their expenses. One thing I constantly hear from business owners who have been in business for 10 or more years is that they would like to eliminate or cap their financing guarantees. They are at a different time in their life.

Money

What do you think money is all about? Is it to bring you financial freedom? To change your relationships with people? Question your belief system about money. If money means the ability to have a mountain home, make it part of your plan. If it means buying a Mercedes, make that a goal.

Pick no more than five material things that are important to you, and make a goal to obtain them. There is nothing wrong with it. Whether they bring you lasting pleasure or not, they may help you to see, once you get them, what actually is important to your feeling of personal success and happiness.

Non-Monetary

If money was not a factor, imagine yourself in the future. Say you won $10 million in a lottery. How would your life change? Right away, everybody says, “I’d buy this or that,” but what about your family involvement? What about your spiritual life and your hobbies? There is no right or wrong answer but there must be honesty.

How often have you heard successful entrepreneurs and professionals say that, if only they had it to do all over again, they would take more time for themselves? Of course, it is much easier wishing you had taken the time to smell the roses during the climb to business success once you have achieved your goals — but those who are still on the road to success should take note. Get to know your passions and start planning for tomorrow.


Allen E. Fishman founded The Alternative Board (TAB), the world’s largest franchise system providing advisory board and executive coaching services to business owners, Presidents and CEOs. TAB’s worldwide business advisory network operates in over 1,000 cities in the United States, Canada, the UK, Czech Republic, New Zealand and Venezuela.

Fishman is also the author of several books in which he shares his business insights to help business owners, including two best-sellers:

4 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Delegating

One of the biggest obstacles to growth in a small business arises when the owner is unwilling to delegate.  At a certain point, a successful business becomes too large and too complex for one person to manage, regardless of how smart, industrious and passionate that individual is. And while on an intellectual level business owners know when the time has come to loosen their grip, they still have a hard time putting that idea into action. Here are four things to consider that will make delegating an easier pill to swallow:

1. Mistakes Won’t Kill You

Attention to detail is a good quality in any business, but when it turns into perfectionism, an intolerance or fear of any error whatsoever, this good quality becomes an enormous handicap.

Owners are sometimes reluctant to delegate because they fear others are more likely to make mistakes. They don’t know the business as well. They don’t care as much. They aren’t as smart. But even if this is true, the only way to gain experience and smarts and passion is to have responsibility.

Very few mistakes are fatal to a business. Very few are irreversible. In fact, many mistakes can be turned into opportunities and every one of them can be a teaching moment. This is the mindset an owner must have in order to delegate comfortably – along with doing a few other things that we will touch on now.

2. Put a System of Checks in Place 

Delegation is not an all-or-nothing proposition. For instance, an owner should not completely disengage from the purchasing function simply because he or she has appointed a purchasing manager. This approach has gotten a lot of potentially successful businesses in a great deal of trouble. Instead, the owner should put in place an organized system of regular reviews and spot checks to ensure that work is being executed properly and diligently.

For a manager to get into perfect alignment with an owner—to understand how he or she thinks and what is expected in terms of creativity, initiative and results—can take months or even years. Without regular interactions with the owner over time, any manager is being set up for failure, and by the time the failure is recognized, it may be too late for the manager and the business.

The art of being the owner of a midsized business involves transitioning from managing all of the details to directing all of the details by managing only a few of them. When an owner has this skill there are no limits to how large the business can grow or how successful it becomes.

4 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Delegating

A recent TAB survey showed that 30% of business owners don’t delegate because they feel they’re the most capable of handling a job.

3. Invest in Training

The smartest of the smart owners surround themselves with people who are even smarter. Moreover, such owners are continuously seeking ways to make their management teams even smarter, with outside training programs, internal mentoring programs, cross-training and scores of other approaches.

If a newly appointed manager is working at “C” efficiency on day one, this is a minor concern. However, if the manager is working at “C” efficiency six months into the job, then this is a serious problem and one that may have been solved—and may still be solved—through training.

4. Delegate to the Right People

Training is not always the answer, because lack of training is not always the problem. Many owners are comfortable delegating only to people they trust which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Many times, though, the person to whom they entrust an important part of the business lacks the background, skills and raw talent to fill the role adequately.

Trust is certainly a big part of the delegation equation, but business qualifications must also be given a great deal of weight. To prevent putting square pegs into round holes, establish a clear set of qualifications for the position before considering any candidate, no matter how loyal.

The Real Fear

Reflecting on these ideas, it may be apparent that what is to be feared is not delegation but, rather, delegation without tolerance for error, without review, without training and without a sensible hiring/internal promotion strategy. This latter situation is indeed something to be feared — but is entirely avoidable for owners who recognize the pitfalls of a poorly organized approach to building a management team.

Rather than dwell on the (avoidable) downsides of delegation, owners can happily consider its many upsides. When a strong management team is in place, owners gain more time to interact with customers and suppliers, think about the big picture, develop new ideas to make the business thrive, and even take some well-deserved vacation time. All of these activities—even the vacation— serve to make a business prosper year in and year out.


Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of straightnorth.com, a digital marketing agency near Chicago. With agency and freelance experience, he writes frequently about business and marketing strategy.

6 Succession Planning Tips for Baby Boomers

Succession Planning for Baby Boomers

Unless you’re a serial entrepreneur who started a business with the sole motive of selling it, passing the reins of your company to someone else can take an emotional toll. If you happen to also be part of America’s largest generation of retiring business owners—the baby boomers—finding the right successor has probably been on your mind in recent years.

Perhaps you’re a family business owner deciding how to fairly split assets and responsibility among heirs. In a recent feature for Family Business Magazine, editor Barbara Spector keenly observes some telling statistics from The Alternative Board’s survey of small business owners.

“Less than half (43%) of the family business owners who participated in the TAB study say they are satisfied with their succession plan. About a quarter (24%) admitted to being dissatisfied with their plan, and 33% said they don’t have a succession plan.”

Spector postulates about the 62% of respondents who doubt their business will even remain in the family when they exit, “Perhaps these business owners plan to sell because they doubt their family members are viable successors.”

While it’s estimated that 80% of businesses worldwide are family-owned, there’s a 20% chance yours is not. You may simply be a hard-working sole proprietor seeking a worthy buyer for the company you worked so hard to build. Regardless of who the next owner of your business will be, your focus should be on making decisions now that will set you up for the comfortable retirement you’ve earned.

Executive business coach John F. Dini is the author of Beating the Boomer Bust, which focuses on the unique challenges faced by retiring baby boomer entrepreneurs. Since he’s an expert on succession planning, we asked him the following questions to help provide you with a better exit strategy for your business:

1) What should you consider when choosing a successor?

A successor is often very different from a second in command. For a key employee, you want skills that compliment yours. For a successor, they should be more similar. Often, however, founding owners had the opportunity to learn different aspects of the business as it grew. It may not be reasonable to expect someone who is up to speed in as many areas as the seller currently handles.

2) How can you determine the amount of money you should take when you “cash out”?

Valuation is determined by the industry and the type of buyer. Appraisals are well worth the cost. Many owners lose good opportunities because they value their businesses based on what they need for retirement, what they heard about someone else at a trade show, or because they misunderstand the formulae (for instance, “All small companies sell for five times revenue.”) That’s simply not true.

3) What documents should be part of a succession plan?

If you are planning an internal succession (to family or employees) you will need new employment agreements, stock buy/sell documentation, probably a promissory note defining conditions of payment and security, and perhaps a non-qualified deferred compensation plan for the seller, the prospective buyer, or both.

4) How can you impart the values and culture of the business you’ve built to the next generation?

That is a broad leadership question. In relation to succession, understanding why you run the business the way that you do should be a prerequisite to consideration as a successor.

5) How can you begin stepping away from the business during succession planning?

You need not only a financial plan, but a management succession plan. Ideally, each year that you are still involved should have goals for passing on responsibility for portions of the business.

6) What role should you play in the business once you’ve retired?

As little as possible, and preferably none. Every time you come in the perception of authority shifts. If you trained your successor well, being available as an advisor should be sufficient.

As Mr. Dini points out in his award-winning book, Hunting In A Farmer’s World, “Buyers of any type will pay more for a business that has documented systems, skilled management, and a history of executing according to plan without the owner’s intervention.”

In other words, don’t spend too much time working in your business. Rather, begin phasing yourself out of the daily activities as early as possible and with strategic succession planning. After all, wouldn’t you rather enjoy your golden years on the golf course or at a resort than worrying about every stressful detail that kept you up at night as the owner?

 

How Does a Mastermind Group Help Your Business Succeed?

You’ve heard the saying “great minds think alike,” but as a business owner, the solutions to problems that are holding you back are more likely to come from someone who thinks differently than you do. This is why mastermind groups (also known as peer-to-peer mentoring) are such an effective tool to overcome problems in your business.

What is a Mastermind Group?

While the term “mastermind group” has become a trendy business buzzword in recent years, the concept of forming business owner advisory boards to solve problems is as old as tribal history itself. It’s widely accepted that the “modern” definition of a mastermind group began with author Napoleon Hill and the release of his Andrew Carnegie-sanctioned correspondence course, The Law of Success in 1928.

Dr. Hill interviewed over 100 of America’s most innovative leaders, including Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, to discover their secrets for success. One key finding of Hill’s research is the phenomena of a mastermind group consciousness or “a mind that is developed through the harmonious cooperation of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task.”

When asked how the mastermind group concept is superior to the problem-solving process of an individual, Dr. Hill expounds, “No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind [the mastermind].”

So when it comes to forming a focused mastermind group or “think tank” for the purpose of helping business owners broaden their decision making perspective, two heads are, indeed, better than one – and naturally boards of multiple business owners will increase the effectiveness of each of the board members.

How TAB Mastermind Groups Help Biz OwnersHow Does This Apply to Your Business?

You might be asking yourself how business theories from nearly a century ago are relevant to the dilemmas you face as a business owner in the modern era. The truth is, the same mastermind group techniques that helped America’s early industrial entrepreneurs brainstorm their empire-building strategies are just as effective today.

While you may be surrounded by a devoted staff, financial and legal consultants, or perhaps even a trusted business partner, there are times where straight-shooting advice from unbiased experts who’ve walked in your shoes will cut to the heart of your issue faster.

In two of the TAB articles that preceded this one, we discussed understanding the value of peer boards as well as how to incorporate lateral thinking to stimulate creativity. If you’re a veteran business owner you might already appreciate the value of a peer-to-peer mastermind group. If you’re new to the entrepreneurial game, you should know that finding creative solutions to business problems could determine whether your private business is one of the 20% that survive or the 80% that “crash and burn” within the first 18 months.

Three Things Mastermind Groups Offer Members:  

1) Trusted Advice

What’s different about the advice you’ll receive in a facilitated business owner advisory board is that the people offering their professional opinions to you have no bias or agenda other than helping you work through your issues. Often the advice you receive from your staff, family or even hired consultants will be colored by their relationship to you.

A properly organized business owner advisory board will be made up of fellow business owners and CEOs who are not in competition with your company and do not have a financial or emotional stake in your future. This creates a pure system of helpful peer coaching that based in reason and experience – and not tainted by the desire for potential favoritism or fear of punishment. Members inspire and encourage one another in an open (but confidential) forum without threat or fear of reprisal.

In other words, in the sanctuary of the group you can open up about real-life problems that are hurting your business without worrying that a competitor will exploit your weakness or that an employee will fear for their future. Because the issues are discussed in a confidential setting, you will benefit from the experience and creativity of your peers who aren’t limited by the same biases as your staff or inner circle of friends.

2) New Business Ideas

Group mind works differently than the thought process of a single entrepreneur — no matter how smart he/she is. The synergy that Napoleon Hill wrote about is easier to understand when experienced than it is to describe. But regardless of the special power a collective mind creates, the shear diversity of backgrounds and experiences an organized think tank brings to the brainstorming sessions is enough to open completely new thought processes.

The lateral thinking that is so effective in helping you tackle your own problems is multiplied by the number of professional peer advisors who are sharing their experience and perspective with you. It’s likely that one or more members of your mastermind group have already experienced and overcome the obstacles you’re currently facing. Although each business is unique, more often than not, the problems that they face are common. The direct coaching from someone who’s already worked through a similar problem saves valuable time and stress.

3) Accountability

Meeting regularly means you better be ready to follow up on the promises you made at the last meeting. It comes as a surprise to some that fiercely independent entrepreneurs—who often get into business because they want to be their own boss—are also extremely grateful to have peers hold them accountable for the goals they set in the mastermind group setting.

Some business owners find that after they become the boss, there are few within their organization who will challenge them. This can lead to complacency. But with the support of an organized business owner advisory board, each member is responsible to live up to the level of excellence set by the facilitator and the fellow members. No board member wants to be the one that shows up to a meeting of their peers unprepared.

In fact, a savvy group will know when to jettison a habitually underachieving member from the mastermind group. This small bit of peer pressure is part of what leads to such remarkable improvement in the performance of most board members.

Simply put, your ability to successfully work with a mastermind group will strengthen your leadership skills.

It may sound strange that a business owner’s leadership skills are so closely tied to how well they perform as part of a mastermind group. But the lessons a business leader learns in these valuable, regularly scheduled meetings are, in essence, a form of leadership training.

Private business managers place a very high level of importance on their ability to accomplish goals. In fact, a recent survey of business owners conducted by The Alternative Board found that accomplishing goals was the number one task a leader should focus on. Here’s how the stats break down:

  • 46% identified the most important leadership quality is Accomplishing Goals
  • 38% of participants identified Setting a Vision
  • 9% selected Establish Rules and Structure
  • 7% selected Setting an Example

So it becomes apparent that the benefits business owner advisory board members enjoy also help them become more efficient leaders. The expert advice and outside the box business solutions offered by trusted peers who will hold their fellow members feet to the fire helps the business owner set visions and accomplish goals. These two things are what define superior leadership in the minds of most private business owners.

In addition to receiving advice, each member of the mastermind group is also expected to help their fellow group members solve problems. Taking on the role of a trusted peer advisor strengthens the leadership and coaching skills of every board member. This new skill set is a beneficial byproduct of the think tank process which each member can bring back to their own respective company.

The Unexpected Benefits of Joining a Mastermind Group

While the professional benefits of business owner advisory boards have been discussed at length, it’s worth noting that most members also enjoy the social aspect of the meetings. Many business owners are too busy to have much of a social life outside of their work and family. Being part of a mastermind group not only benefits the business by brainstorming solutions, it offers busy CEOs a chance to be social with others of like mind.

It can be lonely at the top, and business owner advisory boards offer that additional perk of being a support group for business leaders. Traditionally, C-suite executives and business owners feel more comfortable around people that share their passion and understand the unique challenges of being an entrepreneur.

Networking is not the focus of these group meetings, but members have been known to benefit in secondary ways such as finding partners for new ventures, exchanging leads and possibly sending additional business to one another through mutually beneficial alliances.

In Conclusion

Now that you have a better understanding of how a mastermind group can help you gain a competitive advantage in your industry, you might be wondering how to find the business owner advisory board that’s right for you. Since you’ll be sharing sensitive, personal information vital to the future of your company one major concern you should have is the reliability and reputation of the organization you join. Beware of fly-by-night groups that may just be trying to capitalize on the recent popularity of peer-to-peer network groups.

The Alternative Board (TAB) was formed in 1990 by best-selling business author Allen Fishman who was the president and co-owner of a consumer electronics chain, which after attaining great success became a NASDAQ-traded public entity. TAB not only pioneered many of the techniques other business owner advisory boards use today, but has perfected a system of unique proprietary business tools that have helped over 15,000 business owners around the world achieve greater success.

The certified executive business coaches who facilitate TAB board meetings are among the most successful business advisors in the world. What makes The Alternative Board’s system unique is a combination of facilitated peer advice sessions as well as private one-on-one consultations between each business owner and their TAB advisor. This additional coaching strengthens the individual plans outlined in the mastermind group setting.

If you feel you’re ready to experience the transformative power that mastermind groups bring to thousands of successful TAB members worldwide, click here to find out where the closest business owner advisory board is to your business.

The 1 Thing Forbes, Inc. and Fast Company Agree On: Mastermind Groups Work

With the daily onslaught of information being thrown at business owners, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when it comes to deciding which expert sources offer the most credible advice. Adding to the confusion, several news outlets offer completely contradictory advice from that of their peers and often, maddeningly, publish conflicting advice from one post to the next within their own blog!

It’s refreshing to find a bit of helpful advice that business journalists across the board seem to unanimously agree on. One such piece of rare advice is that mastermind groups help business owners achieve greater success by holding members accountable. Let’s explore how three different news outlets view the subject of mastermind groups.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at three of the top business magazines, each with its own distinct flavor that appeals to different demographics:

  • Forbes – the established authority on business since 1917, popular with Baby Boomers, famous for their annual list of billionaires
  • Inc. - came onto the scene in 1979, serves as the Gen X of biz rags, trusted by older entrepreneurs but respected by younger ones
  • Fast Company – the feisty upstart that launched in 1995, focuses on innovation and appeals to Millennials

Mastermind Groups Work

On October 21, 2013 Forbes published an article by CEO Chic founder, Stephanie Burns, called “7 Reasons To Join A Mastermind Group.” In less than a year, Stephanie’s post has been viewed 17,000 times and shared over 500 times on Facebook alone. This speaks volumes to the resurgent popularity of mastermind groups in the entrepreneurial community.

Although it was ranked second on her top seven list, it’s worth pointing out the lure of “Advisement.” Even business owners who have achieved their dream of running a company may find it lonely at the top once they’re looking at the business from the executive vantage point.

Ms. Burns explains, “Once you are involved in a mastermind, that feeling of ‘being alone’ while running your business is gone. The other members of the group turn into business advisors of sorts and vice versa.” This symbiotic bond leads to a sense of accountability for the members, each relying on the other for the group to succeed overall.

Rewind a couple more years to 2011 and observe a post at Inc.com called “How Accountability Creates Success.” While the article is not solely focused on mastermind groups, as the title suggests, author Marla Tabaka credits peer advisory boards as being a primary catalyst in the success of their members.

“Successful business owners most often engage a coach and/or participate in Mastermind groups or the like. There are so many benefits to these relationships that I can’t even go into them all, but one that seems to be a common denominator for many entrepreneurs is the accountability factor.”

Finally, esteemed business scribe Gwen Moran recently wrote a feature for Fast Company entitled, “Why You Should Build A Mastermind Group.” In this article she interviews Bill Hibbler, founder and CEO of the marketing agency Gigtime Media.

Hibbler is quick to point out that a key factor in the success of mastermind groups is accountability. “In addition to having the right mix of people who are willing to go above and beyond to help each other, members need to be committed and hold each other accountable.”

This insistence on group member accountability is explained further in TAB’s post, “How Does a Mastermind Group Help Your Business Succeed?” An outsider may think that the last thing a stressed-out business owner wants is more peer pressure to accomplish set goals. However, the opposite is generally true. The extra nudge a CEO gets from their board members or executive business coach is seen as a welcome reminder to stay on task and achieve the results that led them to the group in the first place.

If you’re a business owner or CEO experiencing that “lonely at the top” feeling or simply want to explore a proven method to expand your company’s horizons, joining a TAB board might be a good fit for you. Established in 1990, TAB has helped over 15,000 business owners achieve greater success. To find out if you qualify for membership and where the nearest certified TAB board is to you, click here.

Incorporate Lateral Thinking to Stimulate Creativity

When you are up against a problem that appears unsolvable, try using a concept called “lateral thinking” to break out of your usual way of thinking. By crossing sideways out of your normal patterns of thought, you will make connections with unrelated patterns that will allow you to develop new ideas.

In order to solve certain challenges, you must deviate from the limited and automatic thinking that is locked into your brain. Based upon certain information that is stored in the human brain, when we process so many things we tend to automatically do them without engaging in an actual thought process. This is a repetitive response that affects more than just physical movement—it is also a mental response. Hence, most people never even get their creative juices flowing because of this automatic, habitual thinking which blocks their creative ideas.

The minds of truly creative people are constantly alive and always yielding dividends. Sometimes lateral thinking will carry you beyond the logical into what may appear to be the absurd. Don’t resist or automatically eliminate an idea because it appears “crazy.” Rather, allow your mind to wander and leave it free to explore untraditional realms. Some seemingly outlandish ideas have been the foundations for many successful actions.

When you are in the conceptualization mode you need to be fully absorbed by it. Creative thinking can be totally thrown off by something as simple as a phone call or someone asking where a file is—basically, the simple distractions that business owners face daily. The solution to these distractions is to do your conceptual thinking when you are away from the office or from your home. Take yourself someplace you enjoy and let your mind go free.

There is no fast and firm rule for conceptualization, in fact, we all conceptualize differently. The key is to understand how you best conceptualize. Take your time. The basic entrepreneurial nature is to try to implement ideas and changes as fast as possible. Time will allow you the space you need for full conceptualization, which will result in better solutions.


Allen E. Fishman founded The Alternative Board® (TAB), the world’s largest franchise system providing advisory board and executive coaching services to business owners, Presidents and CEOs. TAB’s worldwide business advisory network operates in over 1,000 cities in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Venezuela.

Fishman is also the author of several books in which he shares his business insights to help business owners, including best-sellers:

The Alignment Factor: Unlock Potential, Boost Employee Performance and Increase Profits

7 Secrets of Great Entrepreneurial Master: The GEM Power Formula for Lifelong Success (McGraw-Hill, 2006)

9 Elements of Family Business Success: A Proven Formula for Improving Leadership & Relationships in Family Business (McGraw-Hill 2008)

Understanding the Value of Peer Boards

You may feel your business has reached a growth plateau. Where do you turn to help improve and better manage the business? Perhaps you consult family members, an accountant or lawyer—or worse—make important business decisions alone.

An article by USA Today’s Ask an Expert, Steve Strauss, details the history and importance of “Mastermind groups” for business success. Mastermind groups channel the power of peer advice, a tool that has been growing in popularity with business owners. The business owner meets with peers who have been in similar situations, allowing them to tap into each other’s past experiences, mistakes and expertise. Peers act as a group of advisors who help the owner work on their business, preventing mistakes and learning new techniques to help their business become more successful and profitable.

The result is objective and candid advice created by a “think tank” atmosphere owners cannot create by themselves. The board provides a safe, confidential place for owners to air problems. Advice received during meetings saves time because the busishutterstock_158984084ness doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Another major benefit of peer boards is that the business owner finds practical solutions to problems and learns how to approach new opportunities. Their peers hold them accountable for following through on ideas and goals for their business and become an extension of the business’s management team who cares about the success of the business.

Monthly meetings allow board members to bond, develop relationships with similar-sized companies and get to know one another’s business. Essentially, the board members motivate each other to accomplish goals and solve issues discussed at meetings.

Business owners face human resources, sales productivity, marketing strategies and making payroll issues, all of which are typical topics at a peer advice meeting. Boards are made up of non-competing members so no member is locked into industry thinking, which helps open members’ eyes to new ideas and possibilities because the areas of expertise include those in which a member normally wouldn’t have access. Peer advisory groups are not comprised of individuals that all think the same way. Rather, they provide insights to areas where the owner may not have experience, training or expertise. These boards are generally large enough to be effective, yet small enough to work on each member’s specific needs.

The support received from becoming a part of a regular peer meeting also allows the owner to set goals for long term planning.  The long term planning takes the owner out of managing day-to-day tasks so they can focus on more important strategic goals for the company. On their own, owners may find themselves involved in fixing individual problems or planning using the “idea of the week.” Peer advisory boards can help the owner organize and lead the business to improved growth and efficiency.

Members of groups must be willing to make the time investment, put his/her business issues on the table and share his/her knowledge with other members. The valuable advice given in peer advisory meetings is real-life—not theory—and shows the power that is created when business owners work together.

Can You Find Your Future in a Failing Business?

Can You Find Your Future in a Failing Business?Most entrepreneurs, unless they possess the special skills to turn around a troubled business, do much better starting a new business. However, for that special breed of aggressive entrepreneur who has some expertise in “finding” assets in troubled businesses and turning them around, buying a flagging business can bring both profit and excitement.

What motivates these individuals to take the wheel of someone else’s sinking ship? Certainly, one can enter the market for turnaround opportunities with fewer assets and far less competition, though in these situations the risk at stake is often far less than the risk taken. Motivation often comes from the risk itself—the love of the challenge. These risk takers see possibility where others only see problems. They have a vision few can see, yet they walk with their feet on the ground. Often, these gutsy individuals leave safe, high-paying jobs to pursue their ideas for bringing a failing business up to speed in the current marketplace.

It takes some degree of understanding a business to be able to determine whether your ideas for its potential are valid. Possessing the ego power and confidence to make a winning play in what has been, up to now, a losing game is essential. Many highly successful entrepreneurs are renowned for their “rescues”—not all are brilliant entrepreneurs. Instead, they surround themselves with people who possess the needed skills, and then get out of their way.

When considering taking on a failing business, take into account the following:

  • Does your particular experience, ability or drive give you an advantage over most others?
  • Can you attain something greater from that unprofitable company than you could by using a safer route?
  • Can you afford to make an investment in something that might fail?

If the idea of courting the uncertainty of risky business brings out the thrill seeker in you, always exercise good judgment, accept risk and seize upon the quest for adventure and the thrill of high-throttle stakes. Above all, believe in yourself and the potential of your ideas, and you have taken your first steps towards success.


Allen E. Fishman founded The Alternative Board® (TAB), the world’s largest franchise system providing advisory board and executive coaching services to business owners, Presidents and CEOs. TAB’s worldwide business advisory network operates in over 1,000 cities in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Venezuela.

Fishman is also the author of several books in which he shares his business insights to help business owners, including two best-sellers:

The Alignment Factor: Unlock Potential, Boost Employee Performance and Increase Profits,

7 Secrets of Great Entrepreneurial Master: The GEM Power Formula for Lifelong Success (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and

9 Elements of Family Business Success: A Proven Formula for Improving Leadership & Relationships in Family Business (McGraw-Hill 2008).

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