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Why CEOs Need a Triangle of Trusted Advisors

The Triangle of Trusted Advisors: How Multiple Components Together Prevent You From Steaming Towards Disaster

Stormy Waters

Once, when I was running Wave Dispersion Systems, a company whose primary product was a maritime fence designed to stop a Water Borne Improvised Explosive Device (WBIED), a bankrupt client refused to pay a large invoice. At the time, we were flooded with business, scaling up quickly, and we hadn’t yet dealt with a default. We wanted payment as well as controls to prevent a similar situation in the future.

Fortunately, I was a member of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO), a global peer-to-peer network of non-competitive business owners from a range of non-competitive industries and backgrounds.  EO’s philosophy centers around confidential peer-to-peer sharing based on individual experience, known as “gestalt protocol” and not on “advice.” The magic lies in the realization that there is often another member who has expertise or experience around the issue or decision you are grappling with in your company.

I told my EO Forum group about the problem. Immediately, one of the members suggested a solution regarding the use of a UCC 1 Statement filing that would protect us from a similar scenario in the future. In that brief interaction, I catapulted myself from "in the dark" to "in the know."

Sitting At The Top Is Lonely, A Triangle of Trusted Advisors Is Not

Many CEOs suffer from what we call "lonely at the top syndrome." Symptoms include overly agreeable colleagues, staff who don’t challenge their ideas and decisions, lack of accountability, and few fresh options to solve difficult problems. Most CEOs muddle along, figuring it out in a slow slog towards growth. On the other hand, Smart CEOs hire a triangle of trusted advisors to show them the way, to help them take the elevator instead of the stairs. This system helps leaders scale up and consists of:

  1. Peer-to-peer advisory network
  2. Business coach
  3. Business operating system


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The Power of Peers

Peer groups differ from networking organizations. Some groups, such as EO or Young Presidents Organization (YPO), enable plenty of networking to go around.  The value in peer advisory, however, comes from interacting with peers who aren’t navigating their individual agendas. Rather, they share their diverse viewpoints and advice for the benefit of other members and the entire group. Vistage groups discuss each member’s issue in a structured process led by expert facilitators who also provide individual coaching to each member.

Move Beyond Your Ceiling

Executive coaches provide that one-on-one guidance to help you resolve conflict and manage effectively through tough situations. Often, CEOs neglect this valuable resource. In a 2013 study of 200 CEOs, board directors, and senior executives of North American public and private companies by Stanford University and The Miles Group, 100% of CEOs stated that they are receptive to making changes based on feedback. Yet, nearly 66% of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches. Those statistics are staggering. At least one-third of CEOs are looking for input but do not have the setup to get it. Alicia Marie, founder of People Biz, a coaching, and training organization, said that the number one reason people decide to engage a coach is that they hit a personal development ceiling. A moment occurs when they are stuck when they realize they must change in order to be successful. “That can happen because your entire team of 12 just walked out on you, or you just sold $1 million in product and can’t fund it,” Marie said. “It can be due to major success or major issues.” Either way, the person acknowledges that they will have to grow to deal with the circumstance. Alicia Marie notes that the biggest challenge is always people. “I’ve seen people with all sorts of resources fail because they weren’t paying attention to the people. Anyone can be successful by him or herself. But can you get another person to his or her optimum level? That takes skill. Until leaders and managers can do that, they’re at a disadvantage. Companies that do that will have a huge advantage. That’s where coaching comes in.”

Fortify the Business

There is a third point to the triangle that supports the other two. While utilizing a peer advisory group and coach will expand and reinforce the CEO’s platform, the organization often needs an expert to fortify its foundation. Enter the organizational operating system, a program to develop the processes and structure necessary to scale up. Craig Cummings, co-founder of Ridescout, the mobile app for real-time ground transportation, utilized the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) to help his team inject operational structure, accountability, a smart dashboard, and other processes when he and his team were rapidly building the company.

Build Your Trusted Triangle of Trusted Advisors

Every CEO faces an individual set of struggles on the path to organizational and personal growth. Consider the following circumstances to align your business and yourself with a triangle of trusted advisors:

  • You feel isolated from other leaders who’ve walked in your shoes and would like to leverage their wisdom to help you take the elevator instead of the stairs. Explore a peer advisory group such as EO, Vistage, TAB, et al.
  • You see the value in someone who pushes you to achieve your best and problem solve thorny issues. Search for a coach by asking your extended network for referrals.
  • Your organization lacks a coherent vision and core values, needs smarter metrics, can’t resolve tough issues, and lacks productive meetings and accountability. Consider an operating system such as EOS, Ownership Thinking or Six Disciplines.

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