7 secrets of successful mastermind groups: If I only knew then what I know now

By Jeffrey Reeves MA

EUREKONOMICS[tm]


For most of my life, uncompromising independence denied me the support of well-intentioned family, friends, colleagues and like-minded entrepreneurs. Over the past decade, mentors, self-education and experience revealed to me the secrets of forming and operating successful mastermind groups.

I have been an entrepreneur and an independent small-business owner since I was a lad of 10, which was 62 years ago. During those years, there have been successes and failures in almost equal numbers. Although there were other people who contributed to each success and failure along the way, I — having refused to relinquish control of my destiny to anyone else — take responsibility for every one of them. However, it is clear today that I accomplished less than I could have and should have because of that refusal.

You see, I became distrustful of adult judgments when my father left my mother, my brother and me to join the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1945. I became more distrustful when my mother agreed to marry an abusive alcoholic in 1946, even though my brother and I both recognized — even at that young age — that doing so was a horrible mistake. My mother said she had no choice since my grandparents, who had taken us in when my natural father left us, now wanted us to move out — another adult decision that confounded me.

I objected. I believed our small family of three would find a way to prosper on our own. I may have been wrong, but at the time, I was convinced and determined. The decisions I made during this period guided me for many decades. Through grade school and high school, my drunken stepfather proved repeatedly that I was right, while my mother denied the depth of his addiction and the breadth of his abuse toward us.

To defend myself, I denied anyone else access to my life choices from the time I was five and six years old for fear of further suffering from their bad decisions. After high school, I joined the seminary on my own and left the seminary on my own five years later. I joined the Air Force, started businesses, succeeded, failed, married, divorced — all based on my own perception of what was best for me at the time and without meaningful guidance from anyone wiser or with a different perspective. My recognition of the power of the mastermind — regardless of the form it takes — arose with the long overdue reversal of the decision by my six-year-old self to live my life based solely on my own judgments and insights, without relying on the advice and guidance of others.
    What a fool I was, what a dominated fool
    To think that you were the Earth and sky
    What a fool I was, what an elevated fool
    What a mutton-headed dote was I

    — My Fair lady
For most of my life, that uncompromising independence denied me the support of well-intentioned family, friends, colleagues and like-minded entrepreneurs. Sometime between reading Napoleon Hill’s "Think and Grow Rich" as a youth and Bob Burg’s "Go-Giver," the realization of my folly began to glow like the first light of sunrise on a clear Colorado morning. Eventually, the light became a new day. The depth of value one derives from being part of a group — especially a mastermind group — became as apparent to me as Colorado’s amazing deep blue sky on a cloudless day. I retired my six-year-old self’s decision and began relearning what it means to be a part of something greater.
The mastermind group

Mastermind groups tend to be self-selecting; people come and go by their own choosing. The group leader or the group itself may invite a person to join, but group leaders and members have no control of the candidate’s decision to join or to remain a member. For this reason alone, trying to control the membership of a mastermind group by establishing rigid criteria is not useful and insures neither success nor failure. However, it is important to be clear about the kinds of people you want as members. Here’s an analogy that you’ll want to keep in mind when talking to individuals about the opportunity your mastermind group offers.

For discussion purposes, we'll use an analogy that assumes there are three types of people that might consider joining your mastermind group.

There are folks that recognize the value of the group and join with the intention of contributing just enough of their own time, energy and resources to allow them to remain in the group and benefit from the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and financial contributions of the other members. We’ll call these people “opportunists.” They are in it for whatever they can get with little or no effort and with no commitment other than minimal contributions.

A second type of person sees the group as a purely self-serving entity. Their only concern is, “What’s in it for me?” These are the “predators.” Predators consume everything that they perceive to be of benefit and value to themselves regardless of the impact of their action on the other members or on the group. Predators tend to move on frequently to a different situation that offers more of whatever they wish to consume.

A subset of the predator is the “enlightened predator.” An enlightened predator recognizes the long-term benefit of belonging to the group and strategically denies the natural urge to prey in order to secure the greater personal benefits he or she can receive from maintaining membership in the group. However, keep in mind that even an enlightened predator is still a predator.

The third type of person sees both the value that they can derive from the group and the contributions they can make to the group and its members. I borrow Bob Berg’s book title to describe these folks: "go-givers.” A go-giver© sees beyond the immediate benefit of belonging and benefiting. A go-giver embraces the group and its members and commits to the long-term success of both.

You can expect to have every type of person join your mastermind group. However, the predators, enlightened predators and opportunists will either fall away when they realize the futility of their positions as a mastermind or adapt to the go-giver model and become valued members of your group.

The seven secrets of successful mastermind groups

Although I had formed two formal mastermind groups and initiated numerous mastermind events over the years, it never dawned on me that these groups and events were anything more than adventures. I was an enlightened predator in action, and that held the go-giver in me at bay.

Over the past decade, mentors, self-education and experience revealed to me the secrets of forming and operating successful mastermind groups. I also discovered that my income, influence, intellect, insights and assets would be much greater had I employed those secrets in my 40-year insurance and financial services practice. I am confident that anyone in any profession would benefit from participating as the go-giver leader of a well-conceived and well-run mastermind group.
There are seven secrets to creating successful, well-conceived and well-run mastermind groups. Here’s a brief summary of them.

1. Commitment

It’s easy to join a mastermind group. It’s not so easy to fully commit the personal resources of time, energy and emotional, intellectual, physical, financial and even spiritual support that the group needs from every member to assure its success. The secrets for obtaining commitment are:
  • The mastermind group has a clearly articulated purpose that transcends the benefits each member hopes to derive from membership.
  • There is an accountability structure built into the group requiring members to:
    • honestly discuss the success and/or failure of their set goals
    • attend and participate in every meeting
2. Leadership

A mastermind group or session requires a skilled leader who recognizes that she or she is not the lecturer-in-chief and has the skill to:
  • build trust and communication among the participants
  • keep the ideas flowing
  • manage overzealous members
  • maintain a high energy level
3. Membership

Every member needs to reassure the other members of the group that he or she will hold in strictest confidence the information they share, the issues they raise, and the solutions they develop or propose. In particular, it is usual and customary that only one person from any given profession be granted membership. Moreover, all members should fall within a determined level of experience, income, authority or some other criteria that assures that no member dominates or, conversely, feels they contribute significantly more than the other members do and receive little or nothing in return.

In addition, every member needs to respect the proposals made within the group to assure that no member feels diminished for presenting their ideas — regardless of how out-of-the-box those ideas may be.

4. Scheduling

A meeting of the masterminds, like every other group-learning experience, loses impact and content if the group fails to reinforce the lessons presented at a meeting. Mastermind meetings need to be frequent enough to allow the members to reinforce and apply what they gain from the meetings, but not so frequent as to make the meetings burdensome and/or boring. The schedule for meetings is a delicate balance that needs to develop by consensus among the members and the leaders based on their wants and wishes, as well as the nature and structure of the group.

5. Continuity

Successful mastermind groups maintain communication among members during the times in between meetings. Formal programs to keep members in contact often connect to an accountability structure that unites members as partners and provides a formal program for ongoing discussion of goals and commitments to action. This is especially important if the group meets infrequently.
6. Play

Do away with "all work and no play." One of the most common failures of mastermind groups is that they fail to recognize the need for having fun, being entertained, playing or finding other diversions that only indirectly relate to the mastermind process. Masterminding is itself a fun process. However, it too can get stale and unattractive. Adding diversions as a formal element is vitally important for the survival of a mastermind group.

7. Size

There is a myth that mastermind groups need to limit themselves to 10 or 12 members to assure every member is the focus of attention on a regular basis. If all you want from your group is the limited perspective of a dozen folks, this may be true.

On the other hand, a properly structured group of as many as 36 members who rotate among three or four internal and intentionally diverse groups over a longer period offers a much broader base of opinions and ideas, while still allowing every member time in the spotlight.

(By way of observation, the greatest mastermind group in history — 13 colonies represented by dozens of patriots — met in Philadelphia for almost two years and drafted the greatest governance document ever written. You may be familiar with it: The Constitution of the United States of America. Size matters, but brilliance and commitment matter more.)

Conclusion

If you are an insurance agent or financial advisor and are not a member or leader of a mastermind group, you are denying yourself the most powerful strategy I’ve found in my 40-plus years in the business for growing your business, helping your clients (regardless of the market you serve), adding to your bank account, and expanding your knowledge base as a professional.