Tuesday, June 26, 2018

7 Benefits of Joining a CEO Peer-to-Peer Roundtable

Roundtables happen everywhere

A VACEOs Roundtable meets during their retreat outing at the beach.

An article in the June issue of Inc. Magazine recently caught my eye. It was titled “This Secret 1930s Tradition Is Suddenly All the Rage with CEOs,” and it was written by Kate Rockwood, contributing editor at Inc. 

The article is about “mastermind groups,” or what we call Roundtables at the Virginia Council of CEOs. What I found interesting was the fact that the author used “Suddenly All the Rage with CEOs” in her headline. Funny – we’ve been forming mastermind groups since our organization’s inception in 2000! Still, I’m thrilled to see the power of this peer-to-peer format promoted in the media.


Rockwood and other sources credit Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, as the founder of peer-to-peer sharing groups. So what are they? 

CEO Roundtables typically include eight to 10 individuals from non-competing industries who are committed to meeting on a regular basis – typically once a month. The confidential forum allows members to speak openly about the challenges they face as business owners. Members in VACEOs Roundtable groups follow a highly structured meeting protocol in which no advice is given – only experiences shared. VACEOs members are trained on the protocol before they’re assigned to a group.

“Peer roundtables are important because they provide a unique opportunity to share and learn with a group of peers in a completely safe environment,” says Mo Fathelbab, Forum Resources Network president and author of Forum: The Secret Advantage of Successful Leaders.

“As a CEO, it’s often lonely at the top,” explains Fathelbab. “You can’t share everything with your employees, partners, board members or investors. Members of a Roundtable have no personal interest in your decisions.”


Our members quickly find Roundtables to be a confidential safe haven where anything they’d like to talk about is fair game. Discussions topics can range from “I have a new acquisition possibility I’m looking at” to “I have a teenager I don’t know how to deal with, and it’s affecting my work life.”

“The Roundtable format is like an instant Board of Directors and a constant monthly reminder to be driving for continuous improvement” – Henry Clifford, President, Livewire.

Jeffery Beir, a CEO operating out of the Boston area, found the guidance he needed to deal with a difficult situation with a key executive – and help with financial matters and working more effectively with board members. “I just feel more confident that I’m not alone in facing these issues,” Beir told Harvard Business Review. Linda Hutchinson, another CEO featured in the same article, found the guidance she needed to complete her new business development plan. 

Our members find that there are many benefits to the peer sharing experience. “The Roundtable format is like an instant Board of Directors and a constant monthly reminder to be driving for continuous improvement,” says Livewire President Henry Clifford.

“My roundtable has been my sounding board and provided me with a lot of mentorship,“ says Travis Hamilton, owner of U-Fab Interiors. “I haven’t had a boss since my early 20s, so this has been crucial for my personal development. It’s pushed me to further grow my company and be a better leader.”

For others, the experience helps them feel less lonely. “For me, the opportunity to connect and share similar experiences with other CEOs has been invaluable,” explains Robyn Zacharias, president, Barber Martin Agency. “It removes the ‘It’s lonely at the top’ feeling and gives you an abundance of friendships, support and objectivity.”   


Here are a few benefits to being part of a CEO peer group:

  1. They move your business forward and in new directions. 
  2. They push you to think differently and broaden your business.
  3. They can help you solve long-standing problems.
  4. They allow you to unburden yourself from day-to-day issues.
  5. They give you clarity and new perspectives.
  6. They give you access to resources.
  7. They offer personal support.

In the closing of  her article, Kate Rockwood advises readers who want to join a group to follow a few important guidelines, including avoiding groups with members in competing industries, finding CEOs with similar “metabolisms,” and making sure to keep conversations flowing by connecting outside of your group, to name a few. The great news is, we do all that hard work for you at VACEOs! Interested in learning more? Contact us.

Related posts we recommend: 

Posted by Scot McRoberts at 3:37 pm
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Thursday, March 29, 2018

4 Biggest SMB Social Media Takeaways from the Industry’s Largest Conference

SMMW18 photo

Social Media Marketing World 2018 conference

As you’ve probably heard, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has been in the hot seat recently after a major data breach was linked to his platform. Is this the demise of Facebook and social media as we know it? I hope not! For many small and mid-sized businesses, social media outlets like Facebook and LinkedIn are vital to building brand awareness and fostering brand advocates.

Two months before the announcement of the Facebook breach, Zuckerberg was in the news for a very different reason. On January 11, the social media giant announced a major policy shift in the algorithm it uses to determine what content we see in our Facebook feeds. Many social media marketers quaked in their boots, quickly proclaiming it the “Facebook Apocalypse.” The change effectively means that those who rely heavily on Facebook and organic posts to generate awareness are in trouble. (Business owners, are you listening?)

So, what does the future hold for small businesses that rely on Facebook and social media marketing? I attended the Social Media Marketing World conference to find out. And I wasn’t alone. Approximately 5,000 marketing and social media comrades joined me at the three-day event in San Diego, California.

With more than 120 workshops and sessions to attend – and world-renowned keynote speakers at every turn, it was difficult to decide which presentations to attend. Leveraging influencers was a hot topic, as were Facebook’s Messenger bots technology and Watch platform. There were countless workshops on writing, podcasting, corporate social media and how to use video and visual content to get your message across. I quickly realized I have a lot more to learn.

I heard Jay Baer, bestselling author of Hug Your Haters, speak about talk triggers and word-of-mouth tactics. I heard Shama Hyder, dubbed the “Zen Master of Marketing,” explain the power of a frictionless customer experience and how to attract, convert and transform customers. I learned visual content tricks and found out there is WAY more to LinkedIn advertising than I ever knew!

Although the social media landscape has changed greatly in the last few weeks — thanks to the Facebook scandal, I find that my FOUR biggest lessons and takeaways from the conference remain true. My hope is that these high-level points will help you understand how to use social media as the owner of a small or medium-size business.

Please leave a comment and share away if you find this content useful. If I get a lot of feedback, it could mean a follow-up post!



SMMW18 room

Social media attendees choose from over 120 workshops

Although the future of Facebook remains to be seen — and I can’t believe I just wrote that — one thing is sure:  where Facebook goes, other social media follows.

On January 11, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced a major policy change, effectively stating that content that Facebook has deemed “more relevant” and/or offering more “meaningful social interactions” will stay at the top of your customers’ and prospects’ News Feed. I firmly believe LinkedIn will follow suit in this type of policy.

To be more specific, only posts that garner multiple AND longer comments will get top billing, making it even harder for small businesses to get in front of their customers. The policy change is slated to make its way through all its products, including Facebook Groups, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp.

This effectively means that those who rely heavily on Facebook and organic posts to generate awareness are in trouble. Think there aren’t a lot of businesses and marketers who fall into that category? Data suggests you’re wrong.

Research shows that two-thirds of marketers say Facebook is the MOST important social platform they use. Of those, 89 percent say they use it for exposure, 81 percent use it for traffic generation, and 66 percent plan on increasing organic activities.*

BIG TAKEAWAY: Plan on developing a larger social media budget, and be prepared to pay to play  even more as the supply of Facebook ad space decreases and demand for Facebook advertising increases. Also, don’t be surprised if LinkedIn follows this new policy lead.

LESSON 2: VIDEO. VIDEO. VIDEO. (in the “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” voice)

We addressed the importance of video marketing in a previous post, but I’m sounding the alarm again for those who aren’t listening or are camera shy.

Viral video star “Chewbacca Mom” makes an appearance

According to Cisco research**, “By the year 2019, 80 percent of all content consumed online will be video.”

It wasn’t a coincidence that Brian Fanzo’s “Facebook Strategy in Light of the Facebook Apocalypse” presentation was almost entirely about video. Fanzo’s research found that Facebook Live videos get six times more interactions than native videos.

His message to marketers and business owners? “In order to make this work, we must embrace Live video and two concepts: Perfection is a fairytale, and control is an illusion. Perfection gets in the way of having authentic conversations. You can’t control where your content goes or what people say, but you can develop value. You can work together and allow them into your content.”

Not sure you want to be on Facebook now? LinkedIn will soon allow native video posts on Company feeds. And guess what? Those posts will rank highest on your followers feeds!

BIG TAKEAWAY: When it comes to content — video or not, design it with intent and with repeat viewership in mind. Think shows and episodes!


For the longest time, social media marketing has been about social proof and numbers: how many fans, how many followers, which posts get the most clicks or shares. Now, if you want to grow your audience, it’s about really zeroing in on the right segment and engaging them consistently and frequently with relevant content (preferably with video!).

“Now it’s more important that we think about who are the right people we should be targeting,” said Michael Stelzner, the man behind the Social Media World conference. “We need to be ok with smaller, highly relevant, engaged audiences that are a perfect fit of who our customers and prospects ought to be. Small is the new big from here on out.”

BIG TAKEAWAY: Find your perfect audience and keep them engaged. Worry less about casting a wide net. Again, think episodic content.


This was probably the most important message I heard at the conference, and it was repeated verbatim or in essence in just about every presentation I attended.

JayBaer at SMMW18

Jay Baer, bestselling author of Hug Your Haters.

The phrase “When marketers move in, members move out” was presented by well-known Facebook expert Mari Smith back in 2009, during the first-ever Social Media Marketing World conference. The message rings true today, now more than ever.

In 2009, social media was new, and it WAS about being social. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, things changed: the bad marketers moved in, and brands distanced themselves from their true identities, their true selves. As Brian Fanzo put it, “We put out there how we wanted our customers to see us.”

Today, consumers want authenticity and transparency. They want to do business with the people they like behind the brand.

BIG TAKEAWAY: Fanzo’s message was about getting back to being authentic and creating content that’s likable and relatable, as he told the large crowd, “I firmly believe that relatability is the future of marketing. We buy from people we can relate to. Relatability is how we shrink the distance [between the brand and the consumer].”

In fact, one of my favorite moments captured from the conference came from Fanzo, who said:

“We have the ability to connect with people who might not know us or like us, but if we provide value – if we show that we care about them BEFORE we want them to care about us – the power of social media will turn those people into customers, customers into advocates, fans into evangelists.”

Which leads me to my BIGGEST TAKEAWAY …

In an age where technology is taking over and we’re all about text and email  automation, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, it’s time to get back to being human. Let’s be funny, flawed, and fearless! And let’s find ways to be more genuine and authentic in the way we connect with others. In short, let’s bring the social BACK to “social media.” Who’s with me?

-Kat Hurst
Your Social Media World Conference Reporter


* Source: Michael Stelzner, “Social Media Marketing Trends: What the Newest Research Reveals,” Social Media Marketing World 2018. (Note: Research before Facebook breach.)

**Source: Marcus Sheridan, “Sexy Content: Understand What Truly Moves the Sales Needle,” Social Media Marketing World 2018.

Posted by Staff at 9:08 am
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

VACEOs Members Learn How to Ditch the Drama with Cy Wakeman

Got drama in your workplace? Gossip? Tattling? Employees constantly complaining about a colleague’s poor communication skills? Are you spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with unproductive behaviors like jealousy or resistance to change? If it seems like hours every day, you’re not wrong, and you’re not alone.

Cy Wakeman, researcher and New York Times bestselling author, has determined that employees spend nearly 2.5 hours a day more than 17 hours a week, or 68 hours a month (816 hours a year!) on negative behavior that results in drama in the workplace. And for the average business, that can add up to millions of dollars in wasted time and energy.

Earlier this year, Wakeman shared her research and conclusions with Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs) members and University of Richmond MBA graduates and alumni at a workshop co-sponsored by VACEOs in which she challenged attendees to think differently about leadership. Her view: Your role isn’t to motivate employees or find ways to engage them and keep them happy. “Drama is really emotional waste!” she exclaimed. “We need to modernize our leadership philosophy.”

“I’m here to tell you, the research I’ve done on drama will blow your mind,” Wakeman told the CEOs and future leaders in the room. “And there are businesses that are saving millions of dollars – actually actualizing on their bottom lines – by leading differently. That’s the good news. The bad news is that much of what we’ve been teaching you about leadership doesn’t work.”

“Your role is to help [employees] use good mental processes, live skillfully in current realities and deliver on organizational promises.” – Cy Wakefield


Think about it: What if you could recapture those 816 hours a year, PER EMPLOYEE, and put that energy back into improved customer experience or a new revenue stream? Wakeman believes there are millions of dollars’ worth of potential for the average organization.

Not sure where to begin? First, realize that there only three ways drama can enter the workplace:

  1. You hired it;
  2. You keep it or enable it; or
  3. You ARE it.

“This waste,” says Wakeman , “is completely treatable.”

Wakeman’s research finds that ego issues – behaviors where a scorekeeper mentality and/or judgment are the culprits – are the greatest source of wasted time (30 percent) for employees and management. Other drama offenders that can drain your business’ potential are lack of accountability (23 percent) and resistance to change (13 percent).

Main Sources of Drama in the Workplace*

  • Ego
  • Lack of Accountability
  • Lack of Buy-in
  • Resistance to Change
  • Lack of Earned Engagement

By the end of Wakeman’s day-long workshop, members and future leaders learned how to:

  • lead differently to combat ego;
  • foster accountability more effectively;
  • create earned engagement and buy-in; and
  • stop feeding into the drama.


The day was full of valuable takeaways. Here’s what two VACEOs members had to say about their experience.

“… I left Cy’s talk no longer preoccupied with obstacles; I left focused on opportunities.” Charlie Connell, Principal, Punch.

Charlie Connell, Principal, Punch

“Cy Wakeman’s ‘Reality-Based Leadership’ presentation is yet another example of a great educational opportunity I gained access to through my participation in the Council. I walked into the talk preoccupied with work, but it didn’t take her long to grab my attention.

‘I’m not responsible for the happiness of my coworkers’? ‘You can’t purchase buy-in’? These are things you know are true, but you still want the happiness and the buy-in. Cy explained other ways of thinking about these statements that made sense.

My favorite takeaway was combating ‘Why Can’t We’ statements with a ‘What If We Could?’ mindset. Again, a simple concept, but delivered in a way that was impactful for me. The segment about accountability and the fact that it cannot be enforced – it’s something that must be chosen – also hit home for me. All in all, I left Cy’s talk no longer preoccupied with obstacles; I left focused on opportunities,” says Charlie Connell, Principal, Punch.


The learning opportunities that are offered through VACEOs have been invaluable for my professional and personal growth.”–   Jennifer Boyden, Chief Executive Officer, Heart Havens

Jennifer Boyden, CEO, Heart Havens

Jennifer Boyden, CEO, Heart Havens

“I was delighted to attend the presentation by Cy Wakeman! Aside from providing a straightforward, common-sense approach to workplace issues, she offered humor and personal examples. It’s frequently challenging to step away from daily operations, so I like to consider that my time is well spent. VACEOs offers these kinds of opportunities.

This workshop provided many take-away actions – not the least of which was implementing an SBAR Sheet to control the energy in the workplace and move from thought processes to ‘how to make it work.’

What’s SBAR?
S = present the situation in one sentence
B = share the relevant background
A = conduct an analysis/fact check
R = present recommendations (with an emphasis on the plural)

The learning opportunities that are offered through VACEOs have been invaluable for my professional and personal growth,” –   Jennifer Boyden, Chief Executive Officer, Heart Havens.



Do you have a thirst for knowledge that will help you grow your business? Do you need inspiration to help you get “unstuck”? VACEOs can help you work ON your business – not just in it. Our members are regularly exposed to inspiring presentations by local and national thought leaders. Topics range from management techniques to trends in technology and marketing, and much more.

Next up? “Future-Proofing Your Career” – a special knowledge-sharing and networking event for women co-sponsored the Robins School of Business, a VACEOs sponsor. Become a member today – or contact us about attending an event as a guest.

Cy Wakeman speaks to UR MBA alum

About Cy Wakeman
Cy Wakeman is a dynamic international keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times bestselling author, and global thought leader with more than 25 years’ experience cultivating a revolutionary new approach to leadership. Grounded in reality, Wakeman’s philosophy has helped organizations and individuals all over the world learn to ditch the drama and turn excuses into results. Learn more.

*Cy Wakeman Presentation: “Reality-Based Leadership”; January 12, 2018; University of Richmond

Posted by Staff at 10:47 am
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dear CEO: Your Decision-Making Process Is Holding You Back

Danessa Knaup

The average person makes more than 35,000 decisions in a typical day. “We are decision-making machines,” says Executive Coach Danessa Knaupp. “We’re making thousands of decisions a day – all the time – so naturally we develop a shorthand.” But, Knaupp cautioned during a recent Knowledge Network luncheon, that shorthand could be holding us back.

“People who rise to positions of leadership are widely regarded as good decision-makers,“ she explained. “You get rewarded by the small and large decisions you make, over and over again. But the number-one reason leaders fail is they stick to a process that has delivered them up to a point but cannot deliver them further.”

Her advice?

  • Change your perspective (realize the potential pitfalls of your shorthand)
  • Realize the information you’re taking in is an assertion or opinion, NOT a fact
  • Broaden your perspective

Check Your Perspective. It’s Probably Skewed

Knaupp teaches that all decisions we make flow up a Ladder of Inference. First, we select or gather data. The trouble is, our previous experiences affect how we perceive that information. For example, one CEO might look at an image and see a random putting green in the middle of a pond; another, one of the most iconic holes on the PGA tour. It’s all about perspective.

Ladder of Inference

“We have a set of experiences – all of us – where we sit in a space with a huge pool of data and we select that data using our distinctions,” says Knaupp. “Then we make assumptions about that data. We draw conclusions. Those conclusions form beliefs.” From there, we make decisions. And this is where our shorthand can get us into trouble. Shorthand is very powerful, but it can handicap us. Once we’ve formed a set of beliefs, we’re continually processing data selectively based on those beliefs.

Two Important Things to Know About the Ladder of Inference

  1. Realize that the data before you is a tiny faction of the actual information available to you to make a decision.
  2. Realize that what you believe is influencing any action you take.

So the next time you gather data on the flow up the Ladder of Inference, ask yourself, “Is this a fact, an assertion or an opinion?”

Great Leaders Distinguish Between Facts, Assertions and Opinions*

  • Fact: Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed; an objective state that can be measured.
  • Assertion: Something declared or stated positively that cannot be objectively proven.
  • Opinion: A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated.


“The VACEOs roundtable experience offers leaders an opportunity to gather a broad set of perspectives on the challenges they face. Those confidential conversations allow each to broaden his or her view, noticing opportunities in a different way. By expanding perspective, leaders expand their potential solution sets in a way that is nearly impossible to do alone.”- Danessa Knaupp, Founder and CEO, Avenue 8 Advisors.

Knaupp says that peer groups like the Council can be a useful tool for broadening our perspective. “The VACEOs roundtable experience offers leaders an opportunity to gather a broad set of perspectives on the challenges they face. Those confidential conversations allow each to broaden his or her view, noticing opportunities in a different way. By expanding perspective, leaders expand their potential solution sets in a way that is nearly impossible to do alone.”

Danessa Knaupp

Summing It Up: How to Shift Your Perspective:

  1. Come down from your ladder.
  2. Explore facts vs. assertions.
  3. Seek ways to broaden your perspective.

*Source: “Shifting Your Leadership Perspective” VACEOs Knowledge Network presentation by Danessa Knaupp, Founder and CEO, Executive Coach, Avenue 8 Advisors.

Posted by Staff at 3:53 pm
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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Former Honeywell Exec and Kloke CEO Shares Leadership Lessons

Greg Herceg of Warren Whitney

The two businesses could not be more different. One company (Honeywell) is a multi-national, publicly traded Fortune 100 conglomerate that produces an array of products, serving a wide variety of industries and employing over 130,000 people around the world.

The other (Kloke Group) is a small, privately held, local and interstate moving and storage company with revenues under $20 million and approximately 150 employees and contractors.

But Greg Herceg, consultant for Warren Whitney and former Honeywell exec and Kloke Group CEO, says these two dissimilar businesses offered him very similar leadership lessons during his time at each. While he was at Honeywell, Herceg led an $84,000,000, 250-person global business unit. He then moved on to Kloke Group, where he increased the company’s total revenue by over 30 percent and diversified its revenue base, among other accomplishments.

Herceg candidly described his trials, tribulations, successes and challenges in a recent Knowledge Network presentation. He shared what he’s learned about motivating employees, hiring outside resources, maintaining financial dashboards, strategic planning and much more.

Like many CEOs, his biggest challenges involved employee management. “I wish I had paid a lot more attention to my HR-related classes than to the heavy finance classes [at Darden School of Business], because that’s what I spent most of my time on at both companies – HR-related issues,” said Herceg.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned in leadership is to build a strong team around you through developing deep, trusting relationships and by understanding how to uniquely motivate each person. A close second to that is to leverage your internal resources in order to grow by collaborating and partnering with those outside of your organization,” says Herceg.

Here are a few more takeaways from his presentation to VACEOs membership. In regards to #5: We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thanks for sharing your experience, Greg!

Five Memorable Lessons in Leadership

(Source: “Lessons from the Trenches” Knowledge Network presentation; Greg Herceg, Consultant, Warren Whitney)

  1. A Controller is not the same as a CFO. “Controllers tend to look back. CFOs tend to look forward. But they are both very important.”
  2. Financial dashboards are a must. “Especially for CEOs who are more marketing or sales or technically oriented. It’s very important to keep a pulse on your financial health.”
  3. Update your strategic plan. “Create a new plan at least every three years.”
  4. Expanding your market? Consider partnering with other businesses. “I encourage you to look for opportunities to partner with companies on things that are hard for your business to accomplish on its own.”
  5. It can be lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be. “You guys are here at the Council, so you know this: Being around other CEOs is wonderful. It’s so great to be able to talk and learn. And sometimes misery loves company. Sometimes it’s reassuring to talk with other people who are going through the same things you’re going through.”



This moment courtesy of “Lessons from the Trenches.” Greg Herceg, former VACEOs forum member, currently a director at Warren Whitney.

Posted by Staff at 1:07 pm
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