Business leader peer groups are well proven

An extremely successful business leader peer group known as the Lunar Society, was around in 1765 and our founder was inspired to start MD2MD by his own membership of a business leader peer group (when running a £50M business) in the late 1990s.  In the piece below he shares his own story and introduces the Lunar Society and it’s eminent members Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, James Wedgewood and James Priestley.

MD2MD Managing Director Peer Groups : The story

Bob Bradley shares his passion for Managing Director Peer Groups

By the time I was appointed to my first ‘big’ job as Managing Director, with 500 staff to lead, I was well trained with an MBA, lots of professional training and some coaching. So I felt I was well prepared. Only to discover that my biggest and toughest decisons were not susceptible to analysis. They were decisions about people, attitudes and values that I needed to make based on instinct and judgement. Fortunately for me I had joined a Managing Director Peer Group.

I found that my friends (for that is what they became) could help me with those decisions. Not by making them for me, I would add. It was still my decision. But they could, and would, bring a range of different perspectives to my decision, many of which would never have occurred to me. Because their experience, attitudes and indeed values were different to mine they saw things differently. Indeed the person I, with an MBA and loads of training, learnt most from was probably the guy who left school at 16, learnt from the school of hard knocks and was a great entrepreneur!

So I loved my Managing Director peer group. So much so, that when a few years later I decided to move into a portfolio career I decided to start a Managing Director peer group myself. And MD2MD was born.

And to bring things right up to date, MD2MD is now almost all I do. And I love it. It’s a great privilege to be working with so many excellent, passionate and ambitious business leaders. And not only that but I feel great pride in doing something to help the UK economy. Having come from a background where I was trained to run businesses, it never occurred to me until I started MD2MD how many Managing Directors there are out there who have never been trained to run a business.

Isn’t it strange that we expect our most junior staff to train for a week, a month, even a year or two, to learn how to do their job? But the person that is responsbile for the whole enterprise, including the ability of dozens of people to pay their mortgage, the Managing Director, is expected to ‘just know’ all the answers. I am astounded at what a great job so many do despite never having had one day’s training on how to be a Managing Director.

And I also know from talking to hundreds of Managing Directors over the last ten years, that many of them find it quite a lonely place. They can’t admit to their team that they are not sure because the team is looking to them for guidance. They would like to talk things through, but their husband/wife/partner doesn’t really understand the situation, and anyway who wants to bring work home all the time? They can talk to their lawyer, their accountant or their consultant, but the hourly bill mounts up. And anyway they tend to bring one specific angle and are sometimes simply looking to sell more work. Sometimes a Non-executive director can be really helpful, but sometimes they are there to protect the interests of a shareholding and, of course, they only have one view of how things should be done.

Which is why, I believe every Managing Director should challenge themselves to develop their leadership insights by being a member of a Managing Director peer group. And that’s another reason why I enjoy my role so much. I am lucky in being able to earn my living not only by working with many great enthusiastic and passionate Managing Directors, but as I do so I’m helping the UK economy to grow. Which is important to all of us!

Peer group learning for leaders is not new

Learning with and from peers is generally recognised as having been first established by a group called The Lunar Society in Birmingham. The Lunar Society was a group of great scientists and industrialists that met regularly from about 1765 and 1813 to discuss what was then known as ‘natural philosophy’.

This diverse peer group included such illustrious leaders as:
  • Doctor, inventor and poet Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles)
  • Flamboyant, self taught entrepreneur Matthew Boulton who built the first ‘manufactory’
  • Steam Engine innovator James Watt
  • Creative commercial potter James Wedgewood
  • Radical preacher and chemist James Priestley

The Society has been described as the think tank of the Industrial Revolution and there is no doubt that their curiosity, energy and enterprise accelerated industrial progress.

The name arose because they would meet on the night of the full moon as the extra light made their journey home easier and safer in the absence of street lighting.

For further information about this early business leader peer group please refer to the following links

Read the Wikipedia Article about the Lunar Society

Listen to a Radio 4 programme about The Lunar Society

See where the Lunar Society met in Birmingham Jewellery Quarter

Read Jenny Uglow’s book about the Lunar Society

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