How a Study Group Can Help You Become a Great Leader, Faster
Becoming and remaining a great leader is a lifelong journey.
As much as we want to spend a few days at a conference and return to work an all-knowing leadership expert and great boss, it just doesn’t work that way.
It’s a long-term commitment that’s full of ups and downs. Successes and mistakes. Wins and losses. It’s a slow and challenging journey that never ends. And we don’t want it to end. Our personal growth is part of the fun.
But we do want to speed it up. And you can get to the promised land faster if you learn to learn smarter.
Like everyone else, you learn over time through experience and repetition. To learn and grow, you have to go beyond the books and courses and apply what you learn. You have to solve real-world problems.
If you want to learn faster, you need to find ways to get experience faster. You need to see more challenges and game out solutions to real-world problems.
And a great way to do that is study groups.
You might remember study groups as those time wasters from school, but many great leaders use some variation to accelerate their growth.
Throughout time, people have worked together for the goal of self-improvement.
Way back in 1727, United States founding father Benjamin Franklin, then a fresh-faced 21-year-old, formed one with a group of 11 friends. It was called the Junto Club, or a “club for mutual improvement.” And according to a Forbes article, the members of the group “all shared a spirit of inquiry and a desire to improve themselves, their community, and help others.” From that group grew many of Franklin’s initiatives including the post office and volunteer fire department.
Franklin understood the power of collective wisdom in accelerating personal growth.
There are many benefits of study groups.
The quality of the people you surround yourself with will have a huge impact on your career.
Spending meaningful time with great people has many benefits, including:
- Risk-free forum – It’s helpful to have a safe place to discuss issues that come up.
- Collective wisdom – There is wisdom in groups, so you often come out with great ideas.
- Different perspectives – Hearing diverse views lets you see issues in a new light and allows you to learn and grow.
- Mutual support – Being a leader can be lonely, and it gets lonelier the higher up you go.
- Resources – You build your network and deepen your ties.
- Accountability – Fellow group members hold you accountable to the goals you set.
How to get started?
The beauty of study groups is anyone can create a one.
It’s just a matter of considering four basic elements: who, what, when, and where.
All you need to start a study group is a team of people with similar goals and learning objectives. I recommend you start with at least five but no more than 10 people.
These should be people you want to invest in and get to know better. And ideally, they should also want to invest in you and are comfortable seeing you as a work in progress.
Write a job description for the type of members you’re looking for and start circulating it.
Strive for diversity: diversity in styles, techniques, backgrounds, opinions, and strengths. Look for people both inside and outside your function. Look for people who can expand your worldview and expose you to new ways of thinking.
But the most important criteria are having a positive attitude and a desire to become a great leader.
When study groups meet, they should focus on two things: individual challenges of each member and specific topics that members want to improve.
There are benefits to discussing both current difficulties and broader issues.
Being part of a group that speaks frankly about its challenges will expose you to many more learning opportunities and help you grow faster than you would on your own. You can think about how you might handle different situations, and your growth is no longer limited by your own experiences. A year in the future when a situation arises, there’s a good chance it will have come up before in the study group and you’ll have a better idea how to handle it.
And by also focusing on specific topics, the group can proactively explore ideas and add skills you will find helpful over time.
Here’s a sample agenda for a typical one-hour meeting:
The first half of the meeting should focus on sharing.
Go around the table and run through a set of questions to stimulate discussion. Let each person spend a few minutes talking about what they’re working on and what challenges they face.
Each person should answer questions along the lines of:
- What were your high point and low point since the last meeting? When were you at your best or most energized? When did you struggle?
- What progress have you made towards your goals? What are the next steps?
- What’s on the horizon? What’s coming up that you need to prepare for?
- What’s your biggest challenge?
- What have you learned since the last meeting that you can share with the group?
Each person shouldn’t answer every question at every session. But these are areas that are useful for each person to share and for other members to learn about.
Answers to these questions often spark great conversations and as you become comfortable sharing, you’ll begin to learn from the wisdom of the group. You will find new and novel ways to think about things and address the challenges you face.
The second half of the meeting should focus on learning.
For example, before the meeting you could share an article, a video, or a book for the group to review and then discuss.
If there is a topic you or a member want to learn more about, they can plan to make a 5-minute presentation about it. The power of this is you learn by teaching. By putting together that 5-minute presentation, you’ll need to dig deeply into something to form clear and organized thoughts, and that’s a key to how we learn.
Sometimes an exciting challenge comes up in the first half, and the group members can use the second half to talk about how they’ve handled a similar situation in the past.
At the end of the meeting, set aside a few minutes to rotate the facilitator and decide on any topics for the next session.
The When and the Where
In terms of logistics, you'll want to conduct these meetings at least monthly, but I know some people who meet as often as weekly, but those tilt more towards mastermind groups instead of study groups.
Set a start and end date for the group and plan to give it at least six months. This approach lets members know it's not a permanent event, and at the end of the term you can re-up or re-organize the group.
And try to have a regular day so people can plan ahead and build it into their schedules.
Study groups can be conducted anywhere, online or offline.
Use a conference room of a regular attendee, pick a restaurant that will let you sit for an hour, or use an online service like Zoom.
And like having a regular day, try to have a regular place. Moving locations can cause confusion and I’ve seen groups fall apart because there wasn’t consistency.
Finally, have some ground rules.
Some general guidelines I’d suggest (as a starting point) are:
- Show up Prepared – Respect your study mates and know that you’ll get out of it what you put in.
- Ask a lot of Questions – The more you participate, the more you’ll learn.
- Rotate the Facilitator – Avoid making this the person who talks the most or the most senior.
- Consider the Privacy of Others – Don’t use the names of companies or people when discussing specific scenarios.
- Work to Understand Other Perspectives – Focus on helping others more than helping yourself and strive for equal time.
- Respect the Attendance Policy – If you need a break or don’t have time to participate, let the group know. Don’t ghost the group.
Nothing has been more impactful in my growth as a leader than building a tribe, and study groups were a key piece.
It has helped me learn faster.
I mentioned earlier that being a leader can be lonely. Stuff comes up in your organization that you sometimes can’t talk about with other people in your organization. You don’t want to take those issues home, so you need a safe place and group where you can take things.
Study groups are the answer for many leaders.
So, your first step is to think about the who.
Identify 10-15 people you think would be great in a study group and reach out to them. Share this article with them to help set the stage.
Find a small group, experiment, and make improvements over time.
Greatness is out there. What are you waiting for?
Enjoy the journey.