Emerging from the Shadows of Peerdom

A story of success in the first 90 days when a former peer becomes the leader

We were recently approached with a not unusual request to support a newly appointed CEO who had been promoted from within his peer group. On this occasion this new leader (let’s call him Chris) not only wanted to make his mark in the first 90 days, nothing unusual there, but what made this unusual was his courage to really shake things up at the first quarterly Executive offsite meeting with him at the helm.

Despite the significant investment of Executive time, over recent years these quarterly offsites were little more than camaraderie building at best and a time-wasting talk fest at worst. Now stepping from the pack into the leadership role Chris expected this wasn’t to be a time for silo mentalities or rounds of golf.

Chris shared his ambitions with his HR Director and they wondered if they needed an external Facilitator to help Chris and the team take this mighty leap forward. Initially they thought they could do it themselves and the more they delved into it as they shopped around for a Facilitator the mightier the task seemed to become.

After a few conference calls with Chris and the HR Director, what turned out to be an extensive face-to-face meeting was arranged to map out a pathway forward and design an entirely new agenda for the next Executive quarterly offsite meeting. Chris took the next step along that path, personally interviewing each member of the team, gaining their insights about what was working and not working around these meetings, and around the dynamic of the team, and what their expectations were to make this a worthwhile investment of their time. His former peers were pleasantly surprised by this approach and their expectations were building that this meeting was going to be unlike any other.

The objectives for the Executive offsite were ambitious, to say the least:

  •    Each person to lift their heads beyond their areas of responsibility and behave as the true leadership team for the organisation
  •    To welcome and participate in robust debate about the 5 year strategic direction and imperatives for the business
  •    To agree on the priority actions to be implemented across the business over the next 18 months with accountability assigned and the team united in tracking implementation


Might sound simple enough but a pre-meeting survey indicated that Trust was at a very low level. Without Trust there is a lack of confidence to feel vulnerable in the presence of each other ” an essential ingredient if the team is to engage in constructive debate. Such a situation is a bit like driving through the countryside completely lost and asking the old farmer “what’s the best way to get into town?” he wryly answers “not to be starting from here!”

But we were starting from here and we needed to work on building trust within the team before we could even contemplate robust debate around the strategies and priorities for the business. Many options are available to build trust within a team. On this occasion we chose an exercise inviting team members to share their personal journey along a timeline that ran in parallel with the timeline we had set for the review of their business and strategic projection.

With trust on the increase we addressed their capabilities to engage in dialogue and discussion. They were now ready to talk about their business, challenge each other and be committed to their decisions.

As this Executive offsite meeting was coming to a close Chris gathered the Team around and looking into their tired yet smiling faces shared how proud he was to have spent these days together and to have achieved all they set out to achieve. He even committed to ban PowerPoint from all future meetings in favour of more constructive conversation. They spontaneously started sharing their final thoughts: “much improved structure”; “clear outcomes”; “more honest conversations”; “driving accountability”; “effort and commitment”. At this stage of previous Executive offsites people had been known to run for the door dashing off to the airport, but not this time. They lingered and spoke as one, with a common sense of belief that “we did this ourselves”.


Des Doyle

Des is a Master Facilitator and Coach, and Principal IECL. To read more about Des click here.

For more information about IECL’s leadership development offerings please email leadership.coaching.enquiries@growthops.com.au