I attended a sample half-day workshop and advisory session as part of the Vistage CEO mastermind group in NYC.

These are my notes from the experience which might be helpful for other CEOs or Founders who have been invited as part of Vistage’s outbound sales efforts on platforms like LinkedIn.

overhead view of CEO meeting sitting around a desk

Vistage slogan: “Discover what’s possible when CEOs put their minds together.”

About Vistage

Vistage was founded in 1957. It is a for-profit CEO peer group meant for strategic thinking, mentoring, networking, and personal development.

Their brochure says:

Vistage brings together successful executives from a broad array of non-competing industries into exclusive, confidential peer advisory groups. Guided by your Chair – an experienced leader with a passion for mentoring CEOs – monthly meetings with your Vistage group are an opportunity to solve your most pressing business issues with colleagues who speak your language. Business leaders who understand the challenges you face and can help you strategize, innovate and move your business forward.

Customers pay several thousand dollars as an annual fee to join. There are monthly meetings with featured speakers and roundtable discussions (also called CEO masterminds). These meetings usually last one full day.

Question I have: Do you have to be a CEO? Are C-level executives allowed? How about Vice Presidents? As CEO and Founder of my company, I only want to be in a strategy session with others who are at the Founder- or CEO-level.

How I Learned About Vistage

Someone messaged me on LinkedIn two years ago. (Cold contact) I stayed on his email list, and eventually made it to this event.

The person who reached out to me had the title of Vistage Chair, which I assumed (incorrectly) meant a leadership role within the organization. I learned that there are many “Chair” titles within each Vistage metropolitan area. For example, New York City has 36 Chairpersons to support 813 Vistage members.

Confidentiality

The group had several rules for attending, one of which was a request for confidentiality. For that reason, I will change some of the names or not give specific identifying information.

Shhh! Man with finger on lips

Vistage asks for Confidentiality at their meetings, so I will obscure identifying personal information.

Venue

The event was held at 8:30 in the morning in the basement floor of the large chain restaurant called Heartland Brewery on the ground floor of the Empire State Building. I arrived at 8:40am. Many people were already there and mingling.

Note to self: Arrive early next time! I always wish I arrived earlier to these things.

Empire State Building in NYC

The meeting was held in the ground level of a restaurant in the Empire State Building.

Agenda

The workshop was broken down as follows:

  • 8:30 am Registration and breakfast and coffee
  • 9:00 am Introduction and overview
  • 9:15 am Speaker from Vistage
  • 9:45 am Roundtable discussion
  • 10:30 am Featured Keynote Speaker: Hunter Lott
  • 11:40 am Wrap up and conclusion
Nick Gray from Museum Hack at the Vistage CEO mastermind

My name placard, which was placed on the table during our roundtable mastermind

Icebreaker and Introductions

We went around the room and all briefly introduced ourselves by saying:

  • Our name,
  • Our business, and
  • What is the biggest challenge that we are facing right now

Sample attendee businesses:

  • Moving company
  • HR
  • Podiatrist
  • Data security
  • Healthcare
  • Digital marketing
  • Attorney
  • Camera re-seller
  • Private equity
  • Real estate developer
  • IT services

Sample challenges that were shared:

  • How to train new staff
  • Political uncertainty
  • Hiring
  • More hiring
  • Scaling the business to meet demand

Random Notes

CEO’s are in the business of making decisions.

Vistage member companies grow at 7.1% versus a nationwide average of 2.1%.

Member Story One: Andrew, Lawyer, Partner at xxx xxx

  • His firm was on the verge of collapse
  • He was thrust into the role of managing partner – and 2 years later, the firm was again a success
  • Used Visage as a very helpful resource

Roundtable Discussion

This was the best part of the day. We split into breakout groups and wrote down 3 challenges on copy paper, then turned in those sheets. The Vistage Chairs picked one person in our group to highlight and troubleshoot their issue.

Red tablecloth over tables in the basement of a restaurant

The roundtable used for our CEO mastermind in New York City

Discussion Topic: CEO Dilemma

The CEO of a small team of less than 10 people recently hired a new customer service representative. This is his third time trying to hire for the role. Worried the new person is already a bad fit.

Should he fire her, or try to coach her to success?

Vistage CEO Mastermind Format

Vistage uses a specific method for their CEO masterminds, which they call their “Issue processing flowchart.”

  • State issue
  • Ask questions
  • Give solutions

This large image was on display to coach us through the process:

Issue processing flowchart from Vistage

Issue processing flowchart from Vistage helps CEOs in the mastermind group discussions

Nick’s Observation: The ability to give advice feels great. I feel bad for the guy, but feel good about myself and my business in comparison. In talking with him afterwards, he was fine and happy with all the feedback (which overwhelmingly was to fire the employee).

We all went around, did this activity, and gave feedback to the selected CEO. It was a very good activity. Many people recommended that he read the book “Who” by Geoffrey Smart which is my absolute favorite book on hiring.

Vistage Member Story

Member Story #2: Mark, CEO of xxx Group International 

  • “Vistage provided me with a safety net”
  • CEO’s are lonely, hard to find people who understand us
  • “When you’re in Vistage, you’re surrounded by others like you”
  • You no longer feel alone

Nick’s Observation: The sample clients of Vistage that are presenting all seem coached and way too polished. The Chairpersons also lack a bit of grit and weather that I would expect from individuals giving advice to other CEOs.

Main Speaker: Hunter Lott

Speaker topic: Hire the Best, Fire the Rest and Stay out of Court!

Hunter Lott presenting for Vistage

Hunter Lott is a frequent presenter at Vistage meetings

Click: Notes from Hunter Lott’s presentation here

Activity

Hunter asked “Who is hiring now?”  We raised our hands.

  • What for? (job title)
  • Who is your best person in this role now?
  • Why is he your best?
  • What characteristics does he have?
  • What do customers say about him?
  • Now, how many of these things are in the job description?

Hunter is a great presenter, and I’ve written an entire post about things he does well as a keynote speaker here. His workshop and presentation was only 45 minutes long but we all got an extended handout from his work. I enjoyed hearing him speak and seeing his presentation style.

Sticker on the back of a man says "Please Sue Me" List of many sample interview questions

Conclusion

The meeting ended and we were free to network with other CEOs. I met some really sharp people who attended! I like the idea of being in the room and discussing things with a CEO peer group.

Currently I am a member of The Strategic Coach, a similar CEO coaching service based in Toronto. The idea of Vistage appeals to me in order to network more locally with other CEOs in New York City and Manhattan.

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