Why You May Need A Mastermind Group (and how to form one)

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April 1, 2014 by Beth

In 2009, a motley crew assembled in a now-defunct cafe in northwest Arkansas, the unexpected frontrunner for the “business community of the year” award across countless metro cities in the United States (but that’s another story).

The group was full of passionate, intense, turbo-charged type-A personalities.  While a small group in an arguably small (but thriving) community, few knew one another or had crossed paths prior to the first gathering.

And yet, when we convened it felt as though the very bowels of the earth shook.  We were certain we would change the world, and each meeting felt like the equivalent of a dozen contenders prior to the running of the bulls in Pamplona.  Inevitably, we would go far over the generous hour and a half we allotted for our monthly early-morning gatherings, and we would each (finally) insist apologetically that we had to leave and get back to work.

Our respective cars starting up in the parking lot could have been lining for the Indy 500, because we (figuratively) revved them up and roared out of the parking lot, so motivated were we by each gathering.

It’s called a mastermind group, and the concept is hardly novel.  Napoleon Hill is credited for having first mentioned it in his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, which has since become one of the most popular books on business and personal development of all time.  Hill was of the opinion that eight minds were better than one, and described a mastermind group as:

A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage one to follow through with both plan and purpose.

If it sounds like something you need in your life because it is action and results-oriented, self-serving while community-oriented, intensely interesting and intoxicating, then jump right in: the water is fine.

Thinking of forming your own mastermind group?  Here are the rules (if you’re reading my playbook):

Low commonality.  There are those who will say that mastermind groups should share interests, geographical consistency or consistent values… and that works for many people. I, for one, will be the first to vehemently disagree.  In my first (and subsequent) mastermind groups, I intensely sought the individuals who thought and operated very, very differently. Few knew each other prior to our first gathering?  Even more perfect.  However, different groups may form and disperse to meet different needs in your lives at different times.

High variability.  While you won’t want to obsess the details, it’s important to select topics in advance, even loosely.  A curated topic or even a guiding sentence or two (leadership, personal branding, bucket lists, sustainability, favorite books, time management, tech tools) selected in advance and sent to the group as a quick reminder 24 hours before a meeting will steer and drive the conversation in unimaginable ways.

Low commitment.  This shouldn’t take over your life.  There is no homework, there aren’t any minutes or agendas and there’s no advance work.  Show up, engage your brain on all cylinders and leave with plenty to affect and drive your days.

High applicability.  No need to obsess the subject matter, but select it in advance.  With the level of brain power you’ve invited to participate in your mastermind group, even if they do as little as consider the topic on the five minute commute to the meeting, you will have productive and life-altering conversations that affect each participant’s day intensely.

Low numbers.  While there are plenty of instances of exceptionally successful mastermind groups with attendees ranging from 15 – 30, a small group developing deep connections, trust and accountability is the idea.  Think in terms of your community (or industry) rockstars, and select 8 – 12 on the high end.  A consistent turnout of 6 – 8 individuals is just right.

High value.  Go back to the “rock star” principle time and time again: invite the people who get your motor running every time you’re around them – the ones who leave your brain turning in dozens of directions and time running out on the clock each time you interact.

Go for the big guns, the people you admire, the ones you aspire to emulate and the ones who captivate and confuse you.

Another bit of advice for the aspiring individual planning to convene a mastermind group: be the force behind the scenes.  Remove the barriers and the technicalities.  Assemble the players, choose the time, date and location and send the invitations and directions.  Provide a reminder of topics in advance and a quick summary after each convening.

Take the headaches and the advance planning away and ensure that participants have to do nothing other than show up for one (supposed) hour per month.  Make it easy to say yes, brainless to attend and profitable for being there.

The simple premise of a mastermind group is that you are assembling your own personal board of directors.  Choose those who are four to five years ahead of you or blazing a path of the same caliber and level of intensity that you intend to blaze.  If that approach is in your DNA, there’s no doubt you’ll captivate those you invite equally.

Another definition of a mastermind group: an intelligent group that shares resources, makes connections and provides critical feedback in order to improve, grow and build businesses, careers and lives. 

While the way each specific group functions varies based upon its members, an unwritten core value is typically that such groups are steady (members do not come and go), elite (in that members are hand-picked), intelligent and often real doers. The group structure is informal, but its focus is anything but. Most groups would meet monthly at a time that suits the members.

Heard of Lean In circles?  The concept is similar.  These are candid and confidential conversations in a small group with high trust, and they should occasionally leave you quaking in your boots.

If you’re thinking of forming a mastermind group, make sure yours is ready to show up, take names and get things done.  After all, you’re out to change the world, right?  Do it together.

Note: The Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders (www.nwalead.com) is currently forming mastermind groups, so if you’d like a little nudge or want to join a group, learn more about Legacy Mastermind Groups here.  A kickoff event is planned for April 23 (more information).

A few recent articles (of varying degrees of quality and information, but good to get your wheels turning) on the concept of mastermind groups:

What do you think of the concept?  I’m thrilled about my newest group currently in the works and would love to hear if you’ll be forming or joining one for yourself!

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