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  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

Value of a Mastermind Class

The Challenge of Being a Business Owner: Are you going it alone?

Have you ever felt, as a business owner, that you have to go at it all alone? Or, that there is no one who understands what you have to deal with daily. Yes, it is lonely at the top. There is no one to test your strategy, critique your thinking, question your judgment, or most importantly, hold you accountable. You may seek a sounding board with family members, friends, accountants, lawyers or partners, but you often find those options less than satisfactory.

Do my current sounding boards work for me?

Your accountant, lawyer or financial planners are professionals you trust. They are savvy and practical, but their advice is generally limited to their area of expertise. Usually, they are not business owners themselves or if they are, they are single proprietors without the headaches you face—employees, inventory, production or distribution. But, the most disappointing aspect of using them as advisors is that it seems they often tend to agree when the issues are really, really tough. Of course, they are paid by you for their services, and are unconsciously unwilling to put that at risk to tell you what you really need to hear.

Minority partners have a true vested interest in the business and often are highly involved in the decisions. However, they frequently have the same experience the owner has, and will therefore likely share the same blind spots. And, sometimes the issue itself may be the partner, and getting advice on handling that relationship has to come from other sources. Finally, they will look after their interests first.

Employees are keenly aware of the day-to-day issues and often are the right ones to solve the tactical problems. No one knows the job better than the operator. But, how often do they see the “big picture” from the perspective of the owner? Even more than the professional advisors, the employees are dependant on staying in your good graces and are not likely to provide the strong check and balance to your thinking or hold you accountable for your decisions.

Your friends are frequently good sources of common sense advice. Usually they have not had the opportunity to study your business and gain deep understanding of your particular issues and challenges. Additionally, don’t you spend time with them to relax, get away from the business and recharge your batteries? Do you sometimes tax the social time with too much business? As a result, many times your friends will concur, with minor tweaks, just to change the subject—or worse—begin to avoid you.

That leaves the option of using family members as the sounding boards. Of course, they have your best interests in mind, and are key beneficiaries of the success of your company. They would never steer you in the wrong direction as their self-interest generally coincides with yours. However supportive they may be—is your spouse willing to risk your marriage by strongly disagreeing with you? Your children, even as adults, most likely hold you in high esteem and have looked up to you for guidance, so offering advice to you is difficult for them. Plus, they rarely have sat in the owner’s chair. Siblings and in-laws have loyalties to their families that may be primary to them. When there is a conflict, the advice they give may not be the best for the company.

You can continue to go it alone, and most likely you will get the same results you are currently getting. You can work harder, increase your time researching solutions on your own, but most likely, all you will do is work longer.

So, where can I go to get the advice I know I need?

Joining a Mastermind Group is one tool that has been growing in popularity with business owners. The business owner meets with peers who have been in similar situations, allowing them to tap into one another’s experience, mistakes and expertise. Peers act as a group of advisors who help the owner work on their business, preventing mistakes and learning new techniques to help their business become more successful and profitable.

Mastermind Groups provide a trusted sounding board because the members of the group don’t have any hidden agendas or stakes in the business. The result is objective and candid advice created by a “think tank” atmosphere that owners cannot create by themselves. The Group provides a safe, confidential place for owners to air problems. Advice received during meetings saves time, so the business doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Plus, the members can “experience” mistakes the others have made without bearing the cost.

Another major benefit of Mastermind Groups is that the business owner finds practical solutions to problems and learns how to approach new opportunities. Their peers hold them accountable for following through on ideas and goals for their business. They also become an extension of the business’s management team who cares about the success of the business. Monthly meetings allow the members to bond, develop relationships and get to know one another’s business. Essentially, the group members motivate each other to accomplish goals and solve issues discussed at meetings.

The support received from becoming a part of a regularly meeting Mastermind Group also allows the owner to set goals and plan their business long-term. The long-term planning takes the owner out of managing daily tasks, so they can focus on more important strategic goals of the company. Owners may find themselves involved in fixing individual problems or planning using the “idea of the week.” Mastermind Groups can help the owner organize and lead the business to improved growth and efficiency. The meetings are the only opportunity most business owners have to actually spend time working on—instead of in—their business.

But, my business is different!

While all businesses are unique, 75 to 80 percent of business problems are common to all companies. Business owners face human resources issues, sales productivity, marketing strategies regulatory challenges and making payroll, all of which are typical topics at a peer advice meeting. The Mastermind Groups I facilitate are made up of non-competing companies, so no member is locked into industry thinking, which helps open members’ eyes to new possibilities because the areas of expertise include those in which a member normally wouldn’t have access.

The naïve question often is the one that penetrates the blind spots. Mastermind groups are not professional peers that think the same way. Rather, they provide insights to areas where the owner may not have experience, training or expertise. Generally, they are large enough to be effective, yet small enough to work on each member’s specific needs.

What should I look for in mastermind group?

  • The members must be other owners, presidents or CEOs. If they have to ask permission to attend, they are not qualified!

  • They must not be competitors, suppliers, vendors or customers of significance. Key issues of pricing, cash flow, marketing and sales cannot be candid if this test is not met.

  • They must be persons of integrity. An essential requirement of members must be the ability to maintain absolute confidentiality. Every issue discussed at the meetings cannot be discussed beyond the meetings in order to provide the right information to get substantive feedback.

  • Members of the groups must be willing to share, willing to learn and willing to help others. They must be willing to make the investment, put his/her business issues on the table and share his/her knowledge with other members.

  • The group needs to be facilitated so that everyone gets an opportunity to contribute and receive information. The facilitator guides the group discussions without dominating the meetings and encourages all members to express their views while keeping the discussion on track. They also ensure problem solving ideas are generated and the meeting does not become a gripe session. In a room full of driven business leaders, someone has to provide air traffic control!

No single person is smarter than a room full of peers. The valuable advice given at peer advisory meetings is real-life—not theory—and shows the power created when business owners come together.

Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at

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