Harness the Power of Peers: 5 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Peer Group

Over 20 years ago, link futurist John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends and High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning, predicted that “the more technology we have in this society, the more people want to be with people.” His predictions are coming true, especially among high performing executives who are struggling to find harmony between mindfulness and mindless technology addictions.

Think about how Naisbitt’s prophecy applies to you. Crowded networking events, faceless awards celebrations, and Pinterest pursuits are akin to playing a high-octane video game: you feel good when they are happening, but leave little lingering satisfaction when they have ended. In today’s over-caffeinated world, leaders need strategies to help them design a committed, cohesive offline community of peers and customers designed to transform their careers.

Online forums and communities, forums, and social selling augment human interaction, but they don’t replace it. Their main limitation is their inability to express empathy. The value of empathy in our society was a very important finding in psychotherapy in the 1990s.

Chip Coyle Jim Ivers & LisaPsychologists have discovered two forms of empathy: affective and cognitive. With affective empathy, you feel others’ pain, joy, and sorrow. Neuroscience is teaching us that our brains are often designed to synchronize with other humans. Empathy is triggered by direct stimulation, not rationality and reasoning. When we see someone experiencing a career meltdown, for example, we feel their pain at some level and are much more willing to help.

The second type, cognitive empathy, is expressed when someone says, “I understand how you are feeling, but I don’t feel it myself.” Cognitive empathy is the bedrock of most marketing research and big data initiatives. Think of all the times marketers have dispassionately observed live focus groups, or pored over reports for common themes and “buyer personas,” a trendy term that companies use to identify their ideal customer. This single perspective of customers misleads us into thinking that we really understand them—and we probably don’t. Affective empathy is the missing link.GREAT table view

Conversely, private peer groups allow us to nurture affective empathy. Unlike a networking group, a peer group enables a group of carefully selected colleagues to grow together in a private, confidential setting. These groups condition us to think about our customers at a deeper level.

As a first step in joining a peer group, ask these five questions:

  1. Are the members willing to get naked (figuratively) in front of one another? It is easy for a member to bring a tactical question to the group that actually is a symptom of a deeper issue. In my Marketing Leaders of DC™ new member consultations, I always ask interested members “What are you willing to contribute to the group…what are your unique gifts?” I want to be sure they believe that they get out of the group what they put into it.
  2. Will members protect confidentiality at all costs? In my CMO groups, I call this the Vegas rule: What happens in the room stays in the room. The sacred space cannot thrive without this understanding.
  3. What kind of rituals does the group follow? We start and end our meetings with a check-in process. This helps to create the setting for a sacred space and clears their minds from other daily distractions. Each person spends two to three minutes sharing “What’s different? What worked in my performance this month? What didn’t work? For what am I grateful?” “What are my intentions today?” I want members to be the best version of themselves in ways that are caring. It’s not about looking smarter than another member.
  1. What are the operating norms? Every peer group should share a common set of values and nonnegotiable ways of operating. In my peer groups members agree to these norms:
  • They must respond promptly to requests from the group.
  • They must attend a minimum number of live meetings each year.
  • They must maintain confidentiality at all times.
  • They must be willing to be generous with the other members.
  1. What’s the quality of the questions? Bruce Peters, franchisee of Renaissance Executive Forums of upstate New York, stresses that “the best groups don’t give you an answer; they help you build a process that helps YOU discover your answer. Accountability becomes a byproduct. In executive-level peer groups, we are modeling that behavior so that they bring that accountability process back to their companies.”


Stuart Foster, VP of Luxury and Lifestyle Marketing for Hilton Worldwide, shares about the importance of peer groups.

Do you still rely on impersonal forums, Klout scores, and “likes” to guide your career journey, or on a private force field of trusted colleagues? Now is the time to harness the power of peers.

Copyright 2015, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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