As I write this article, I am reminded of a proverb I learned in Sunday school as a boy: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This idea of people helping one another to become better is exactly the purpose of executive-peer relationships and the reason that I founded the Business Executive Network in Vietnam.

I often think of CEOs as being captains of their ships; tirelessly navigating challenges as they steer their courses to their ultimate destinations. As if this role wasn’t difficult enough, the destinations often change as the world advances and priorities shift. This constant balancing act can feel overwhelming at times, which is why having a forum for CEOs, General Directors, and Country Managers, to connect, learn, and support each other can be so powerful.

While Chambers of Commerce focus on promoting trade within Vietnam, business support networks go beyond that. Our core value lies in fostering strong relationships among business leaders.

Effective leaders recognize the power of surrounding themselves with external advisors and experts. They proactively build support networks to gain fresh ideas and targeted insights, and to reduce feelings of isolation – things that are important for leaders at all stages of their careers, and essential for those who reach the executive level.

This type of support system is different from simply ‘networking.’ People often think of networking as selling or getting something from someone else – a concept that is counter-productive to building trust. Instead, the goal of an executive group is to build a community.

The message I constantly hear after our discussions is, “I am not alone, so many other people are facing the same challenges as me!”

These relationships do not happen by accident. In the case of The Business Executive Network, we facilitate peer discussions through carefully created and led meetings. Our members, with around 18 to 20 per group, meet approximately seven times a year. Due to travel and business commitments, these sessions usually have around 12-18 in attendance. We sign NDAs to make sure that each meeting is a safe and confidential environment where members can trust and openly share their challenges. We ensure a diverse mix of members by matching people with similar years of business leadership experience and company sizes, while also avoiding direct competitors being together.

During these meetings, members discuss a range of topics; however, what truly sets our meetings apart is the opportunity for executive leaders, Country Managers, and CEOs to share specific problems they are facing with experienced peers. The power of collective wisdom and shared experiences becomes evident as members provide valuable advice, insights, and potential solutions. I have a tool that I use occasionally to amplify and focus our discussions called “The Hot Seat.” At the beginning of the meeting, I hand out cards with the following question:

What help would you like from your peers today?

The members will write down things that they would like to discuss. Near the end of the meeting, I’ll choose the topic that will be the most relevant to the group and allow the executive who posed the question to explain their circumstances. This is when the magic happens. The feedback and solutions offered by the other participants tend to be extremely concentrated and effective. They understand how difficult it can be to ask for help, and how intimidating it can be to show vulnerability. This helps to build trust and comradery within the group. An added benefit is that going forward, other members feel more comfortable sharing their own unique pressures and problems with the group.

A great example of our members helping one another with specific issues occurred recently. A member had a sick child and the medical bills had skyrocketed. The insurance company, unfortunately, refused to pay based on numerous factors. Several members combined their knowledge about the insurance industry in Vietnam and laws related to foreigners, and this individual was able to put pressure on the company until they accepted to pay what was owed.

An example of a discussion during a recent meeting centered around a CEO, who shared that significant financial losses had occurred in her company due to employee error. She asked for advice about whether she should put a financial penalty in place to build individual responsibility. In this case, the opinions of the group were split down the middle. Even though we didn’t reach a majority vote on the issue, our lively discussion gave the CEO food for thought and allowed her to hash out different solutions in a friendly environment.

Our group has also supported executives who are unhappy with certain aspects of their careers, such as a discussion with a CEO of a Multinational Company, who expressed that he no longer enjoyed his work because he felt there was a lack of appreciation, understanding, and empathy for the effort he put in. A meeting participant empathized with a metaphor, saying that he was treated like an “ATM machine” by the organization.

In each of these situations, “the problem shared was a problem halved.” As the executives shared their fears, frustrations, and challenges, and were met with support and insights, they expressed relief about being able to have these discussions in a confidential environment and to build trust through vulnerability. The power of executive-peer relationships cannot be overstated. By joining a group of professionals at their level, business leaders can tap into a supportive community of like-minded individuals who are committed to their growth and success. Together, we sharpen each other, in order to navigate the complexities of leadership with confidence and resilience.

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Tim Burrill
Membership Manager & Executive Assistant
If you would like to learn more about our events and membership, or have other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.