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The power of peer learning and why founders need critical friends

Friday, 5 October 2018 09:18 AM | Personal development

Image of The power of peer learning and why founders need critical friends

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. The same applies to leadership. Entrepreneurs become leaders when they create a business - whether they like or not. Some are natural leaders, but most have to work at it.

Every day at The Supper Club we see how founders use their personal networks and peer learning to understand the problems they need to solve and then how to solve them to become better leaders.

According to The Scale Up Institute’s 2017 Review, seven out of ten scaleups cite the ability to better access peer networks, effective leadership development programmes and mentorship schemes as essential. It helps them to lead growth and grow leaders within their businesses (once again, The Supper Club has been endorsed by The Scale Up Institute in it's latest review of top leadership programmes and peer networks).

By adopting a growth mindset with their networks, founders can find a range of mentors for everyday challenges and every aspect of their lives – whether it’s fellow founders, NEDs, investors, advisers, or coaches. Being more open to different peer perspectives helps leaders make quicker decisions that lead to breakthroughs - for themselves and their businesses.

Members of The Supper Club are great at using networks to become better leaders. Charlie Mowat, founder of The Clean Space, saw the benefits of advice and peer learning early in his scaleup journey to over £7.5 million in sales and ten acquisitions.

“I set up an Advisory Board when I was in my first year and sub-£1 million turnover,” he explains. “They were more like advisors than a proper Board, but it forced me to get out of the weeds and into strategy at least once a quarter. It gave me a mechanism for identifying weaknesses and learning to improve.”

At £3 million turnover I joined The Supper Club, for which I attribute a large part of our subsequent success because I learned from events and peers on a wide range of topics. Just after that I set up a proper management team and a Board, including a non-exec chairman. Along the way I’ve used a mentor (who eventually became our NED) and a coach.

Lifelong learning

Fellow member Michael Nabarro, co-founder and CEO of Spektrix, believes developing as a leader is a life-long journey of self-reflection and experimentation - with inspiration for new experiments coming from a range of sources like books, courses, coaching, and sharing experiences with fellow entrepreneurs.

“Five years ago, I went on the week-long Leadership Trust course that my father had been on 30 years previously, and it was a gamechanger for me,” he explains.

“I discovered that leadership fundamentally starts with self-awareness and being able to control yourself in situations and adjust your style to work for the different people you work with - which is much easier said than done. It also taught me about the importance of open and honest feedback as key to developing high performance teams - a great framework for this is given in one of my favourite reads - Radical Candour."

This need for honest feedback was highlighted by Sophie Devonshire, CEO of The Caffeine Partnership, at The Supper Club’s Foresight summit on The Future Workforce in July. She spoke about how peer networks help founders to manage the challenge of leading at speed.

“In a superfast world, leaders need to adapt to rapid growth and change; but it’s about having a sense of pace for yourself and your organization. That sometimes means slowing down to think; being aware of the power of the pause and bringing people together to think." 

A way to speed that up is using your networks to build a really smart group of critical friends and brains you can borrow to really think through difficult decisions more quickly.

So how do entrepreneurs learn? They learn from a trusted network of peers who understand the risks and challenges of being a business owner. They build this trust by sharing their failures and hard-learned lessons as well as their successes. This openness makes people more receptive to challenging questions and honest feedback which leads to personal breakthroughs. This give and get ethos is at the heart of The Supper Club.