Entrepreneurship and leadership can be a lonely business, and intense internal focus can lead entrepreneurs into bad decisions. Having a peer group that understands us helps us achieve our full potential.

In my previous blog entitled “Building a Balanced Leadership Team,” I wrote about creating a diverse group of employees that a leader can count on. But what about building a circle of peers and friends who don’t answer to you and have no conflict of interest in what you do or don’t do—but can certainly help you and your business?

Early in my entrepreneurial journey, I assumed that if I hired people who weren’t as knowledgeable as I was, then I could grow them in the directions my business needed. I soon learned that faster growth came from hiring people who were smarter and more capable in certain areas than I was.

This idea echoes entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn’s concept of being “the average of the five people” around us—and he had plenty of empowering things to say. Rohn believed that the smarter the company you keep, the faster you can grow. This is where peer groups have value beyond merely relying on your internal team. Building a support group—in your industry or an entirely different one—is a priceless experience.

My transformational growth by learning from others

When I started my business, I was desperate to increase my sales, so I began searching for networks of peers. The first group I joined was BNI (Business Network International), where I found peers who were in the same boat of expanding their business.The experience was intense. The organization held weekly meetings where fellow entrepreneurs and I delivered and polished 30-second pitches and exchanged business leads and needs.It was also a positive experience. We were a team, we all had each other’s success in mind at all times, and we all focused on the same objective: growing our businesses.

But it was membership in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and its Accelerator Program that showed me the real power of these groups. In addition to BNI, I’d previously been a member of the Chamber of Commerce and some leads organizations. But there was one issue with those otherwise valuable settings: a certain amount of “saving face” went on there.

If someone asked how sales were going, the reply was usually “They’re going great,” regardless of the reality. Members tended to feel the need to project success for the benefit of their businesses. EO, however, was a place where I could be myself. I’d progressed into the company of peers who I wasn’t selling. The mask could come off, we could have honest exchanges and ask for support, and I could grow as an entrepreneur.

My experience with EO

When I grew to a certain scale and needed a more significant focus on building a business by design, I joined EO’s Accelerator Program. There, I learned valuable insights from entrepreneurs who had “been there and done that.” But, most importantly, we were separated into Accountability groups of six individuals led by an EO coach who shared his wins and mistakes as openly as we did.

The biggest thing I learned is that we all go through the same issues, no matter what product or service we sell. My EO peers held me accountable as no other group had in my previous seven years as an entrepreneur. I’d been my own boss and lacked real accountability to anyone.

EO got me in line. My peers and coach compelled me to follow through on core objectives and changes without getting distracted with the “shiny object syndrome” that’s typically suffered by entrepreneurs. The group helped me double my business within one year. My peers made me realize that I was the issue in my business, and we all grew as people, business leaders, and entrepreneurs. There are many peer groups like this—such as Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and others. Find the one that best fits you and what you are looking to accomplish.

Once I hit my first million in revenue, I was able to join the Entrepreneurs’ Organization officially. EO offers peer groups called “Forums,” which bring together six to 10 entrepreneurs with no conflict of interest from different industries. These groups are confidential and operate with an “experience-share” mindset. No one gives each other advice; instead, we all come from a place of what we have experienced. This approach helps create an environment of trust and non-judgment that is very different than all of the other organizations I’ve tried, such as Vistage or Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).

EO’s unique approach allowed me to learn from others and draw my own conclusions to apply in my life and business. It was liberating to have access to people with so much experience. For example, my peers provided an invaluable perspective when I was hit with my first lawsuit—something many entrepreneurs experience once they hit a certain size. At first, I was emotional and took things personally. But when I explained the situation to my peers, they immediately shared how each of them had also previously managed a difficult dispute, and it made me feel supported. I knew that I was not the only one who had dealt with this and that I was not going through it alone.

Crucially, beyond the feeling of support, that EO meeting probably saved my company from bankruptcy. My ego had been taking me in a direction that would not have been healthy for the company. I learned from their mistakes, so I didn’t make the same ones.

We all grew and benefited from the opportunities the Forum gave us. Through EO, I’ve also met some outstanding entrepreneurs in different fields who became friends, clients, and success stories; people like Tim Vogel and Aaron Lee, whom I’ve helped reach the next level through my role as a Professional EOS Implementer™. But the exciting thing is that they and others like them helped me just as much in return. There is a real sense of us being in this thing called entrepreneurship together.

Why peer groups are fantastic for any entrepreneur

A strong network of peers helps us on professional and personal levels by offering new insights and perspectives that make us reevaluate our business. Maybe you’re currently facing a hurdle that a peer has already cleared, and they are willing to share how they solved it.

It’s not just because they’ve walked the walk: it’s because there’s usually no agenda or internal blinders involved in what they’re telling us. While it’s certainly possible to get honest feedback from employees if you practice authentic leadership, some team members may say what the boss wants to hear. Or, they are just as caught up in the same internal perspective we are, and unable to see a new solution from a different angle.

The right peer groups promote learning, teaching, and positive vulnerability

Peer groups often contain individuals in the same industry or different ones entirely. The latter are valuable because they’ll offer mindsets, approaches, and solutions that may have never occurred to insiders. It’s the benefit of keeping company with smart people in action again—you may be an expert in your field, but you’re probably not in theirs.

We become students in a peer group and can learn as much from others’ mistakes as from their successes. And our expertise and experiences—good and bad—can help a member move their life and business forward. These exchanges are enriching for all parties. And if you can find a group where positive vulnerability is the norm, the interactions are honest and incredibly valuable.

Building your peer group by design

Candor, camaraderie, new ideas, and next-level networking are waiting for authentic entrepreneurs who seek out the company of other leaders. It’s about building a structure around ourselves that provides a support system external to our business.

Entrepreneurs tend to believe we make our own luck, and joining a peer group is a great way to do it. I recommend seeking out other business leaders whom you admire and feel you could learn from—individually or as part of an organized group. Research organizations to find the right setting for you. And when you find a place where you’re understood—and welcomed but also challenged—you’re on the right path.

It’s a road I’ve walked, and I’ve found that it can take any entrepreneur further than they can go alone.

Are you considering joining a group or need help with a current one? Schedule a meeting with Cesar today and take steps toward building your business and life by design.