February 13, 2008

It's lonely at the top. At some point or another, virtually every business leader has quietly muttered these words. And why not? When virtually everyone in the organization is looking to you for direction and inspiration, where do you turn for support and advice?

In some cases, an experienced board of directors can serve as an effective sounding board. Executives may also have former mentors and teachers to whom they can turn for business or professional guidance.

At other times and under certain circumstances, however, these advisors may be unavailable, inappropriate or lack the necessary knowledge or training to provide assistance. The executive's concerns may be highly personal or demand a high level of confidentiality for business reasons. Occasionally, an entrepreneur may have spent so much time growing the business that he or she hasn't had an opportunity to build a parallel executive-support structure. In such cases, must you go it alone?

Not necessarily. A peer roundtable or similar group of like-minded individuals may be just the resource you need. These formal or informal organizations of fellow executives are often created to provide ongoing business, career and personal guidance to all members of the group. Some roundtables are created by individuals, while others are formed under the auspices of trade or industry associations. Many are part of larger umbrella groups such as the Young Presidents' Organization, the Entrepreneurs' Organization and Vistage International.

However, virtually all successful peer roundtables share certain characteristics: experienced, knowledgeable members; confidentiality; open communication; and clear procedural rules. These groups provide a supportive environment for airing professional and personal issues, help members frame and explore specific problems or concerns, improve communication and leadership skills, and help business leaders build networks of friends and professional connections.

At their best, peer roundtables can help you navigate some of your most difficult personal and professional challenges. Likewise, they can serve as a resource for and springboard into some of your greatest successes. Despite the old saying, it doesn't have to be lonely at the top.

This article contains material of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Under applicable rules of professional conduct, this content may be regarded as attorney advertising.