Possible conflicts: Can I be in forum with this person?

Your forum is considering adding a new member, and one current member is concerned about a potential candidate, saying some variation of:

  • We have close mutual friends.
  • Our spouses are close friends.
  • The CFO of my company is a good friend of this person.
  • This potential forum mate had a close, longstanding relationship with one of my co-founders and their spouse.
  • We were in the same MBA class, executive education program, or section at business school.

In situations like this, it’s important to be fully transparent about any potential conflicts of interest.  The key question: Can I be open and honest about all aspects of my life with this possible new member?

Additional clarifying questions:  What is the exact nature of the relationship?  How close is it in practice?  Is there regular contact/communication? (Sometimes people say they are “close” but rarely see each other.)

Keep in mind that in YPO, members and their spouses are usually each in a forum, are friendly with many other members and spouses, and see each other regularly at monthly chapter meetings.  There are many close relations, but forum confidentiality is still fully respected.  Everyone keeps in mind the clear boundaries between what is said in forum and what is shared in other settings to avoid violating forum confidentiality.

In summary, there is no simple answer – neither an automatic rejection, nor a blind acceptance of the new member.  The nuances of each case must be carefully considered.

It’s the hard days who determine who you are

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of FaceBook, and author of the bestselling book Lean In, was invited to speak at the University of California commencement in 2016.  She chose to talk not of what she has learned in life, but of what she has learned in death.

She related the tragic story of how, a year before her husband Dave, age 47, had died suddenly of a previously unknown cardiac issue. She shared the challenge of deep adversity, and “of what you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you.”  Sheryl went on to say:

A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Sheryl concluded: “We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?”

I reflect to myself: How have I responded when Option A was no longer available to me:

  • When a professional colleague of mine died too young of cancer and the opportunity to collaborate with him was lost?
  • When I expected to receive a job offer that never came?
  • When a treasured business partnership came to an end?

I am inspired by Sheryl who said:

Dave’s death changed me in profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.

As a forum, consider reading Sheryl’s book on this topic, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, or this shorter version published in the Boston Globe.

Then discuss as a forum:

  • What have been some of life’s toughest challenges for me?
  • How did I deal with them?  What role, if any, did gratitude play?
  • Almost all of us will face deep adversity at some point in our lives.  How can forum be a sounding board and resource now and in the future?

Who is presenting at your forum meeting today?

One sign of a healthy forum is that all members are willing, even eager, to explore their toughest issues and highest aspirations in forum.

While that is the ideal, some forums find that members are reluctant to present, or are always deferring to others. To encourage more members to step forward, first ask all members at every meeting to complete one of these sentences:

If I was to present today, I would explore…

OR

I would appreciate hearing the group’s experience that can help me think about…

Then, working with that list, don’t just wait or plead for a volunteer. Instead call on a full repertoire of presentation selection methods including:

  • Voting: During a break, each member gets to cast three votes for the topic/presenter. Your votes can go all to your own topic, all to another member, or be divided as you wish. The member with the most votes becomes today’s presenter. This method can be done in the open (everyone can see which topics are getting the most votes) or anonymously (put your votes on a separate piece of paper, and the moderator then counts up the votes).
  • Secret ballot: Each member writes on a paper the name of the person they would most like to see present today. Again, you can vote for yourself or someone else. The moderate collects and counts the papers. The member with the most votes is invited to present, either on the topic they proposed for the parking lot, or something else of their choosing.
  • Finger shoot: All members are asked simultaneously to hold out between one and five fingers. Five = I must present today. Four = I want to present. Three = I would like to present. Two = I don’t need to present. One = I don’t want to present.
  • Put in place a rotation of one presenter scheduled in advance, and one chosen on the day of the meeting. The scheduled sequence is reviewed monthly and presenters may be moved forward or backwards in the queue based on the urgency and importance of issues.

The “ABC” shared model of forum leadership

Most forums follow the traditional model of rotating moderators annually, often with an assistant moderator who also serves as moderator-elect. That model works well for many, but some forums embrace that we are all leaders (of the forum), and all must take responsibility for our success as a forum. Other forums struggle to select individual leaders, but still want the forum to function effectively.

For forums that want all members engaged in leadership, consider the “ABC” rotation model. A forum of nine members is divided into three groups of three: ABC, DEF, and GHI. The ABC team agrees to lead the forum for the first six months of the year, followed by DEF for the second half, while GHI manages the content and logistics of the forum’s annual retreat. Each team decides internally how to divide their responsibilities. At the end of the year, the teams rotate responsibilities, with GHI taking the first half of the year, ABC the second half, and DEF planning the retreat. The rotation model can easily be adapted to work with forums that are smaller or larger in number.

I’ve worked with multiple forums that have found forum leadership can be as easy as A-B-C. Everyone contributes, and everyone benefits from solid, shared leadership of the forum.

Would you steal your forum mate’s computer or car?

Of course not. We all learn from an early age to respect the property of others so taking without permission is simply unacceptable.  But far too often and without thinking, we steal something even more precious from our forum mates – their time.  When you arrive 10 minutes late for a forum meeting and six other members must wait to begin, you have stolen collectively an hour of their time.

Tardiness is a chronic problem among busy executives, but time is money, and there is no better example of that than your forum mates wasting time around a table, their combined compensation ticking away at thousands of dollars per hour. And chronic tardiness, no matter how innocent, can gum up the gears of a forum’s ethic, build resentment and anger, and make forum members less willing to share and be vulnerable because of that tardiness-induced stress.

Here’s one simple way to be on time:

  • Block plenty of time on your personal calendar to arrive early, even assuming traffic delays or other unforeseen circumstances.
  • If you are early, simply wait outside in the lobby or in your car, checking email, making phone calls, or reading the article you’ve been saving but never get to.

Your fellow forum members will appreciate the courtesy and respect you are showing for them, and this will build everyone’s commitment to not steal our forum mates’ most valuable possession, their time.

Great questions that lead to deep updates

There are many ways to encourage forum members to share during the updates part of the meeting.  One of the simplest approaches is to ask members the following questions.  Each person can then decide which question(s) resonate with them and which they will answer when they share their update.

  • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
  • What is the toughest leadership challenge you are facing now?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
  • What are you complaining about, blaming others for, or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
  • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect?
  • What is something that you don’t like about yourself that you are working on?

Whichever question(s) members choose to answer, encourage everyone to also answer one more question:

  • … and how does that make you feel?

Financial planning: A great forum topic

Talking about money and finances can be great vehicle for forums to go deeper, leading to greater levels of vulnerability, trust, and insight.  Here’s one way to begin the conversation:

  • One member brings copies of key pages from their retirement plan (income, expenses, assets, debts) and unpacks the document(s) for the forum:
    • How did I develop this plan? (myself, with a professional)
    • How do I feel about it: my uncertainties, reservations, and doubts?
  • Others respond by sharing their experiences and feelings:
    • What resonated for me?
    • The memory or experience that was triggered for me…
    • This topic/conversation makes me feel…
    • This is how I connect with what has been shared so far…

Some additional questions to spark your discussion:

  • What is the next (financial) thing I would like to do in my life?
  • What is stopping me?
  • Am I obliged to others or do I feel free to follow my own plans?
  • How much control do I feel over my financial life?
  • What meaning does money have for me?
  • Does financial planning drain or invigorate me?
  • Do I feel that I will have to retire to get the reward I deserve?
  • When I am not working, do I feel worthy?
  • What do I expect from hard work?

Another option: Invite a financial planner to your meeting, and ask each member to do some advance homework for an interactive exercise with the planner.