What is Vistage?

Vistage is a worldwide organisation encouraging membership of CEO’s and their direct reports. It helps build skills in both life and in business.

Cindy Hesterman is a long-standing Chair within Vistage and I have known her for about 10 years. It’s her belief that CEO’s encounter stress all the time which is why she’s asked me over to Florida regularly over the years. Once the group have seen a speaker in the morning, the rest of the day is spent helping them with challenges, opportunities and as a sounding board. The value of membership is in the intellectual property of the people in the room, and what they offer in terms of experience, opinion, and ideas. For example, if the group think an idea a member has isn’t a good one, they will challenge it. If the CEO still wants to go ahead, this isn’t seen as a problem but rather the group’s offering is proffered as Plan B. That way the member receives both the group perspective, and their own thoughts are thoroughly assessed for strengths and weaknesses. This might be ahead of making what in some cases, are quite significant decisions.

Why do CEO’s join?

Some CEO’s join for business reasons but stay for personal reasons. Cindy is a good example of a Chair who takes her time, has a calming influence on people.  They stay as much for her as they do for the other members. Each person identifies problems but can focus on a plan with help. They are encouraged to seek solutions and ideas

Some don’t come with a real knowledge of what’s getting in the way for them but it’s the drilling down from the group that helps. Being ‘called out’ occasionally by a member has value. For example, if a member brings an issue one month and says the issue is ‘x’ but then a few months later it has become ‘y’, the group are more likely to remember the difference.  They will point this out. It’s this ‘peeling back the onion’ as Cindy calls it, that is important and greater scrutiny encourages the CEO to grow

What are the benefits?

Avoidance of mistakes in business is another valuable benefit of being a member. Issues can be bigger than they seem or not as bad as the member thinks.  Both of which benefit from the sharing experience. The insight of a group like this means they come from a variety of industries and backgrounds. Deeper challenges that are normally buried can get in the way too. Fear of failure, risk aversion, or fatigue from frequent exposure to change, all alter a person’s ability to do well. Vistage members tackle this and create a ‘safe’ environment where it feels ok to admit to this. Between them (or in a 1:1), the situation then eases. If it doesn’t ease, Cindy might pass the member to me so that a Psychologist can unearth the problem and ease the block that’s holding them back.

How inclusive are they?

Women are encouraged as members, but Cindy recognises their reluctance might be because they’re stretched thinly. Often in the sandwich generation where they care for children and aging parents, running a business puts extra pressure on time and resources. Female members often need to get beyond those struggles and find a way to juggle before they can commit. But it pays dividends once they’re in, both for themselves and the different perspective they bring to an inclusive group.

It made me smile too when Cindy said not everyone makes a good member! Some feel they ‘know it all’ already but instead of telling them they don’t, she merely smiles and encourages them to continue as they are. She recognises they would not be ideal as members. To do well you have to be a life long learner or at least open to input! This is where Cindy excels though, her style is ‘carefrontational’ never aggressive. A warm and calming person she exudes a quiet confidence

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