September 14

Episode 139: Peer Groups for Senior Leaders Provide Support & Perspective


In today’s episode, Mike talks with Scott Bunce, a Vistage Chair with 25 years of leadership experience. Scott helps executives get unstuck by facilitating confidential peer advisory groups. His members learn to communicate more effectively, make big decisions with confidence, and become better leaders. He shares why lifelong curiosity and learning from peers leads to growth at every career stage.

Scott Bunce’s Bio

Scott Bunce is a Vistage Chair who facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs, business owners, and C-suite executives. With 25+ years of leadership experience at top hospitality brands, he helps members grow their companies, become better leaders, and get unstuck. Scott believes lifelong curiosity and learning from peers leads to growth at every career stage. He is also CEO of a vacation rental management company.

In This Episode…

  • The benefits of peer-to-peer advisory groups like Vistage
  • The importance of staying curious and learning at every career stage
  • The importance of trust and confidentiality in peer groups
  • Tips for communicating across multiple generations in the workplace
  • Why leaders often feel alone and doubt themselves, despite outward confidence

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to Get Unstuck and On Target. I'm Mike O'Neill. Whether it's our team at Bench Builders working with a company, or it's me coaching a CEO one-on-one. Getting leaders in companies unstuck is at the heart of everything I do, and that's exactly what this podcast is all about. Each week, we invite incredible guests who share their hard won experiences of getting themselves.

Or others unstuck back on target and moving forward, and I hope it gets you unstuck and on target as well. Joining me is Scott Bunce. For 25 years, Scott held key leadership roles both domestically and internationally. It's his C-Suite experience that makes him perfectly suited to be a Vistage chair, and it's going to be his role with Vistage that we're going to be spending our time chatting about most today.

Welcome, Scott.

Scott Bunce: Oh, it's good to be here. Mike, thank you so much for having me.

Scott, I have

Mike O'Neill: in the business world, I've heard about Vistage. I've talked to people who might have participated, but for those who don't know what Vistage is, can we just start with that? What is it?

Scott Bunce: Sure. So, and if you don't mind, I'll even take one step farther back, Mike.

I'm wearing multiple hats right now and one of the things that I've done is for 15 years I've had a hospitality consulting company, and it's been exciting for me in that role because I've been able to work both domestically and internationally consulting for companies like IHG Intercontinental Hotels Group and groups in Finland.

Groups in Hawaii groups really all over the country and, and all over the world. That gave me some of the experience to be a Vistage coach. The other thing that I've done and, and I'm doing right now is I'm running a vacation rental management business. And that vacation rental management business vacations for you, or depending on the market in Tennessee, cabins for you and.

North Georgia. It's Georgia, CFY, and just getting also into Florida and the Panhandle in Destin and, and Panama City Beach. It. All of those experiences have led me to becoming a Vistage coach. So, Mike, to answer your question, what is Vistage? Maybe unlike what you do, Mike of one-on-one coaching what Vistage does is get together a group of senior executives, and this could be.

Vice presidents, senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents, COOs chief operating Officers, chief executive officers, maybe owners of small businesses. And we get together on a monthly basis and we bring together business issues to try to solve with each other. So yes, I'm a business coach like you, Mike, but the thrust of Vistage is really getting peers.

Together. And maybe unlike other groups, it's not industry specific. So I'll pause there. This is not a group for people that get together, that are all in it or are all in hospitality or all, all in I don't know, in one vertical market. This is a group that's specifically. From different backgrounds.

Because if you're, you know, if you're in one particular market, you probably go to trade shows. You probably have groups that are in a specific industry. But one of the vista Vistage differences is that, If you go, you can't open up your heart. If you're having a business issue with somebody that's in your market, you can't say to them, Hey, I'm losing market share.

Hey, hey, I've got an employee that is failing. Hey, I'm thinking of acquiring somebody in this business because then you're giving up a trade secret. So one of the unique things in this peer-to-peer advisory group is you can openly discuss challenges in your business that are not with your people in your same industry, and be fearful of, Hey, I'm going to say something that I shouldn't, or I've got a competitor that might take advantage of me because I'm talking about a vulnerability along the way.

This is a group where you can get together and be as vulnerable as possible. And not worry about divulging something that that could leave the room and, and hurt you inside of that industry. So that's one of the unique things that this peer-to-peer advisory group

Mike O'Neill: does. Scott, when you mentioned peer-to-peer, and I did not share that you also are a business owner or businesses, so it really makes it a little bit unique.

It's peer to peer, but you also are a peer. And therefore as you as chair, as you facilitating these meetings, I suspect you're learning as they're learning from each other. What is it about peer to peer that makes it so magic?

Scott Bunce: Well, maybe it's, it's, it would be good if I tell you my backstory and how I got involved in Vistage.

So, the company that I run that does Vacation Rental Management the owner of the company had been in Vistage and thought so highly of it. When he brought me on to run this company, he said, Look, I'm going to sponsor you for Vistage for a year, and then you can decide if it's worth it, and you can decide if you wanna spend your own money after that doing it.

So, I, I did it not knowing much about Vistage right off the bat, but in that year there were a variety of opportunities along the way. It's a family run business and with family owned. Businesses that there, there's a set of unique challenges right there. I ended up starting to purchase another company to fold into this business right off the bat.

So within the first year, I was able to go talk about my unique challenges with a group of people and. Before I became the chair of this group, the chair of the group at that time, and have both group settings and one-on-one coaching, setting settings to help me process through these things. So it, to me, I saw the value.

So right after that first year and for the next four years, I paid outta my pocket to be part of Vistage. because I, I saw what went on through that. So I personally went through four other acquisitions where we acquired four other companies. And again, I touched base with people within the group and my Vistage coach at the time, and made really sound decisions.

It helped me with my communications with the owner of the business that I was running, and it, it. It, it worked so well that when my chair moved on and I had an opportunity, I became so vested in this process. And there are unique business processing models that we use. There's unique speakers that come to meetings and I got so much out of it.

I raised my hand and said, I want to take over this, this chair. For this particular group, and it, it, it's just really changed what I've, I've done now as a chair of the group. I also will bring ongoing issues that I'm having to the group, even though I'm a business coach as well. You everybody, even as a coach, and Mike, you probably know this yourself, you're, you're going to run into issues where, Even if you're the world's best at giving advice, you always have your own blinders on.

Right? And I am never going to stop learning. I'm never going to stop having an opportunity of getting feedback 360 feedback that I myself might be blind to. And so that's, that's the, the history and, and why I found Vistage to be so helpful.

Mike O'Neill: Well, that backstory is very, very helpful. Scott, when you mentioned peer-to-peer and that you two are a peer, it seems to me as one goes up in organization, it's harder to find peers, particularly peers that you can trust.

And what I'm hearing in your description of a typical Vistage group is trust is foundational. You purposely. Try to not have anybody who would be quote competitors, but can you just give us a little bit of a feel for when I come to a Vistage meeting that's not an hour meeting, it's a a bigger commitment.

How long is a typical Vistage meeting and how often.

Scott Bunce: So it's monthly and it is all day, right? It's an eight hour meeting. And even before you can join Vistage, you have to commit to the confidentiality around it because not only are we talking about business issues, Quite often life issues come into play.

I've had members that have had problems with their marriage. I've had members that have aging parents with dementia. I've had members. With children with addiction. I've, so there, so maybe 75% of what we talk about is traditional business issues. 25% is very personal, and what I found is, Mike, that.

Being part of a, a Vistage group, there's a lot of stickiness to it, right? You become vested in people's lives, whether it's career and career changes they're making, whether it's learning about their family members and the ups and downs that they're going through it. There is a lot of confidential scenarios of not only business, but in in their personal life and.

Having, having that trust and faith that what stay, what goes on in the Vistage meeting stays in the Vistage meeting. It's, that's part of the whole process.

Mike O'Neill: No, you shared about you, you have to be willing to dedicate a full day. You have to be able to maintain confidentiality. You will not have.

Necessarily a competitor in the room for those who are listening and they're starting to say, yep, I fit that description. I'm in a senior leadership role. I could benefit by a peer-to-peer approach. And yeah, I can kind of keep my mouth shut when I need to, but might there be some qualities that if you have, wouldn't mean it's not a good fit for visage.

And I'll

Scott Bunce: answer that in two ways. What, what's, what are good qualities and the, the contrast to that, what are the, the bad qualities? The perfect Vistage member is somebody that is probably not walking out of business school and, and just starting their career. It's somebody that actually is seasoned. In their career.

That's not that we wouldn't take a younger member, but what Vistage members are looking for is somebody that has been around the block in business. So we actually have a vetting process where we invite people to a meeting and before they can be asked to join the group, we actually process an issue or two, and the other members are listening to hear.

Is that member contributing through their life experience, through their business experience, asking good, curious style questions, and then when it does come time through the processing of issue model to give suggestions, are they making well-informed decisions? Are they respectful of the process, are they insightful to what they're bringing?

So we're not looking for low level, level quality of people. We're looking for people that, that are, are going to bring something to the table and are very curious. So Mike, to go back to your original question, what are the traits we don't want people that are know-it-alls. People that are not willing to learn.

People that think that they're at the end of their learning journey people that that may come and sit and don't play well with others, people that don't, I. Really process from their experience and their life issues and bring something to the table. People that are shut down and know it all, or maybe they talk too much.

They dominate the discussion and they, they, they, they, they just got to be the know-it-all to every issue. That those are not the right people for us. We we're looking for people with balance that are curious, wanna learn and can listen. Right. And listen before they immediately dive in and say, I've got the answer to everything.


Mike O'Neill: You shared that there is a mix. Most of the discussion centers around business related issues. You said it could be maybe a 75, 25, but as you've stepped back both as just a participant and now as a coach, what might be the type of issues that come up pretty regularly, particularly for those folks who might be joining the group?

What, what might trigger someone to say, gosh, I really need to be. Part of that, but what do you, you see, what do y'all see as a very common issue?

Scott Bunce: I would say the most common issue is around communication. Now communication could be over a variety of issues. One might be how do you communicate?

You know, our, our workforce is getting older, and so you have to communicate. To boomers, down to millennials and every place in between. And quite often you have to come up with a new message. So in, in the Vistage meetings quite often, you know, I'm having a hard time finding staff. And how do I recruit to somebody that's at a different level?

Or how do I make departments that might have older employees to very young employees? How do we get them to mix together? Or it's the communication with a vendor or it's the communication of a prospect. Or it's the communication of an owner of a business, or it's the commu. How do I communicate to a board if they're reporting to a board, or let's say that they're acquiring a business?

How do I communicate to people that are going to be nervous as, as we're acquiring new business? How do I communicate to, you know, even through sales of, of going after a big piece of business, and quite often people are giving a pitch inside of the meeting. So, a really good example of a Vistage meeting is, hey, I'm giving a pitch to a board.

I'm giving a pitch to acquire a new piece of business. I'm giving a pitch to a, a candidate that I really want to come join our, our, our business. They're, they're giving pitches in one way, shape, or form, or giving feedback, which could be positive or negative. If there's one common theme, Mike, is how to communicate through various scenarios.

Because most problems boil down to communication. Now, don't get me wrong, that's not what we, that's not the exclusive thing we do in Vistage, but it, it's your question, what's the most common theme along the way? And quite often people are in Vistage to improve their executive presence and, and how they communicate and polishing how they communicate.

Mike O'Neill: For those who are watching, they see my head nodding up and down green wholeheartedly what you're describing, I think. Scott, you know, my background being hr. And for the last 15 some odd years, I have focused primarily on people skills, training, coaching are the two main areas that I find that is the most pronounced needs.

But if you were to ask me and my consulting work with organizations, what is the number one issue that are raised by employees, it's communication. And you gave, I didn't count, but at least a dozen examples of how communication impacts everything that leaders. Have to deal with when one joins the Vistage Group and you're trying to build that sense of trust and camaraderie, how long do you find it takes before people really get that sense?

They've got my back. Does it happen pretty quick or is it gradual?

Scott Bunce: Well, usually it all starts when I bring in somebody to present to the group as a potential member. If they come in and they watch one of the speakers and then they sit through and participate in processing a couple of issues. The feedback that I'm usually getting is after the meeting and I go back one-on-one to talk with them.

Wow. That experience was more powerful than I thought it would be because I could feel. How much the members cared for each other in how they made recommendations on the issues that were being processed. They typically can feel that. Now, that doesn't mean that immediately they, they feel part of the group and, and, and they've got the back, but that's where the door opens up.

And then when they get through a meeting, Or two meetings, and let's say they start to process issues of their own, that's when the final light bulb goes off. Oh my God, I, I feel like I got some great advice. I feel like I. I can go put that back into my business or maybe home life or whatever the, the issue might have been around and they, they know in that next meeting, I have to come back and explain how their recommendations impacted my life.

When they come back and they report back and people go, oh, that's great. Or, oh, alright, if it didn't work, we're going to try something else. All of a sudden that that's when they feel the i This group is more than worth the money. It is. It, it, it's a group. I've got one member, Mike, that's been part of the group for 25 years.

Goodness. That's an outlier, right? The, the average tenure in, in the group that I run is probably five or six years. But you know, the 20 year member is one member and a 25 year member. The, there's a reason, right? It's, it's, it's more the, the 25 year member. Is is probably now been through all of the business case scenarios you and I have done in our lifetime, right?

And he's there more now for the comradery and, and the. You know, I'm, I, I get one day a month to go put my, the work that I'm doing aside, and I get to be with people that are vested in me, and I'm vested in them. And it's, it's a different, it's a different experience than typical consulting, let's put it that way.

Mike O'Neill: As I was listening to your answer to my question I asked, how long does it take? And I'm by nature more of a strategist. I, I tend to step back and I kind of analyze, which is a head thing, but I was noticing how you use the word feel. You use that word repeatedly and that is, you know, I. When a person joins your organization, they've made the head decision, this is the right thing for me.

But it sounded to me as you're describing this, is that when they feel that sense of connection, a sense of belonging, they feel that these folks have my back. That there's not much I can say that would shock them because they too are dealing with that. That's powerful. I think we mostly know we make.

Purchase decisions more often, not based on feelings, but as you're validating that, I guess. I guess what I would share with you, you are very good at describing the experience and you're describing it first as a participant. Now you have the good opportunity to facilitate and come out of your business one day a month.

And learn from others. Could I invite you to kind of reflect on, this may be your leadership days, ownership days chair of Vistage. Think of an example where either you or a client got stuck and what did it take to get unstuck?

Scott Bunce: Yeah. Well, I'm, I'm going to answer that question, but I wanna reflect on something you said.

Because you, you, you nailed it, right? We, we get together and somebody will bring up an issue and multiple people will have had that experience, but you wouldn't know it, right? I always use that. It's like the iceberg. You've got the tip of the iceberg that's sticking above water. It's the shiny thing that everybody sees, but the real issues are below the water and people don't know the struggles you're going through, and it isn't until you're vulnerable enough.

Amongst your peers to say, you know, not everything's going so well, and I, I've got a problem and I, I feel lonely. In fact, most executives at the level that I'm working with at Vistage, they feel alone, right? They're running a company or a division and, and they don't have people to talk to, to say, Hey, I, I don't know if I'm do, I'm, I'm at work and I'm putting on my.

Big boy hat and, and you know, I, I give that bravado or whatever it would take to make it look good, but underneath, I don't know if I'm making the right decisions and I've got some self, self-doubt. So, going back to your, your comment, where, where was I stuck? Well, I'll say that when I got to Vistage. I immediately got stuck in, in this family business scenario.

It's a great family that I work for, but there are landmines and, and, and scenarios that I, I didn't know how to do it and I, I was really stuck on how to, how to manage through some of the family dynamics. Great family which included some young individuals that. We're looking for leadership, and that's what I was brought in to do, be a mentor for them and lead them.

And, you know, the family's counting on me to do it and the whole Vistage process. And the, the coach I was working with at the time helped me get past that. So, without Vistage, I would've and was stuck on a variety of issues on how to move forward. But because of that, it's now I think the family dynamics are e are, are so much better and it's, it, it, it, yeah.

That, that's where I got stuck and where I got unstuck.

Mike O'Neill: It's a great illustration. I, I appreciate you sharing that. Something about family businesses, it's a whole different animal. I found myself going to work for small family owned companies that got big. Got corporate, got Fortune 500.

But those family dynamics didn't go away. And it really is a level of complexity, you know, when you're talking to others and they stop you and say, all right, Scott, tell me more about this Vistage. And, and rather than you start explaining Vistage, what is it you would hope that people would know about Vistage?

That they typically don't.

Scott Bunce: So the common issues that that are expressed to me is, I can't commit one day a month. I'm too busy. I, I'm, I'm, I've got a big project. I'm, I'm acquiring a new business. You know, there's, there's layoffs and I, I just, I just can't break away for a month. Next common issue might be, okay, so there's a financial investment, and I don't know if there's going to be a good return on investment for me.

Something else that I would s I would say is, you know, I'm, I'm part of a lot of groups and, you know, let's say I'm in insurance. I, I, I'm in a whole bunch of insurance groups. I, I can't. I can't add another group along the way. And it's, and it's not until after they experience some of this that they can go, oh, alright, well that, you know, money really isn't an issue and I do need to take some time away to work on the business.

As opposed to in the business. And there's a big distinction there as well. And then I think other people go, alright, I've been with consultants before, but this Vistage isn't consulting. It is peer-to-peer advisory. So again, I, I run a hospitality consulting business where I've gone in and I've spent weeks and months sometimes a year on a project, and you make all these recommendations and whether they accept the recommendations or not.

You know when it's very unfulfilling, you walk away and, and you never know if it was successful. You don't know if you made a real impact. But you know, we, when you get into Vistage, you get people giving you positive feedback on God. Those were some great ideas in that meeting, and it, it's not consulting, it, it, it, it is coaching, coaching on my end, which is not consulting and it's peer-to-peer advisory, which is totally different than what most people think of along the way.

So I think there's a variety of people that might have misconceptions of what it's all about until they get into it.

Mike O'Neill: You drew a distinction, you're about to say something

Scott Bunce: else, right? Yeah. I wanna go back to something else that you said. You, you mentioned, and I think the reason you're successful at what you do, Mike, is because of your HR background, I.

And it's funny, we had somebody in our group that was in hr that ended up going away not related to Vistage, it was just time for them to move on. And that was one of the best members of the group, was an HR member. And, and to this day, I'm still looking for somebody in hr that could come to the group because that type of background.

It touches so many people in the group along the way. So I, I just wanted to reference that, that that's a great profile and I'm sure it's why you're so good at, at what you do, because you've got so many skillsets just being in hr.

Mike O'Neill: Well, you're kind, you know, we were talking a moment ago about you differentiated coaching and consulting.

And I, I wear both those hats and I have to, sometimes if I'm talking to a client, sometimes I have to take one hat off. People don't know that distinction. Maybe that distinction's just mine, but it sounds like it might be yours as well. When an organization invites me in as a consultant, they, they're, they want my expertise.

They want me to tell them. What to do based on what is legally required or what might be more practical, et cetera, et cetera. My approach to coaching is very different. I don't know if this applies to what you're saying, but my job as a coach is not to tell. My job as a coach is to listen, listen well, and ask questions that help them move in the direction that they wanna move in, that they.

Begin understanding things because they think about things in the new way. And you drew somewhat that distinction in what you just said. There are times when you're in a coach role, you're in a consulting role. Now, what I just described, you're nodding, but am I close to where you kind of view

Scott Bunce: the, the two?

No, I, I think you're on the right track. I think. Consulting, you're the expert in the room coaching. You're the most curious person in the room. You ask questions to draw out things that they might not have even thought of themselves. And I find myself, if somebody has said, okay, here's fact a. If I say, okay, why is that fact a and why do you feel fact A is important?

And what have you done about fact A and what, what other things could you do to affect fact a quite often they start coming to their own conclusions, and that's, that's the perfect scenario, right? I, you know, in, in. In coaching, you're not drawing out a game plan. You're getting them to process issues, think through and come to their own conclusion.

And when they, when they come to their own conclusion, it's more likely to stick and resonate with them, as opposed to you being, well, I know it all and you got to do this. Right.

Mike O'Neill: Well, I, this has been a real treat for, for me, Scott, as you kind of reflect on this conversation. What do you want to be? Those takeaways?

Scott Bunce: Takeaways

Mike O'Neill: for the listeners. They wanna make sure that, all right. I wanna make sure they heard the following.

Scott Bunce: Yeah. I think, I think if people that no matter what age and, and I'm, I'm getting there in age, right? No matter what age they are, if they can always stay open, curious. Realize that there are so many changes in this world, whether it's artificial intelligence new ways of doing business in hr, there's you got to handle things differently with different age brackets that, that, that they're constantly looking to, to better themselves.

Then they get better. 'cause you know, it's the old adage, you're, you're never staying stagnant, right? You're, you're either moving forward or you're falling behind. And so with Vistage, it's for people that, that want to continue to prove, improve no matter what stage of life or age that they're in.

Mike O'Neill: Scott, you've improved my understanding of Vistage.

You've also enhanced my appreciation for you, your expertise. I can see why you're so good at what you do. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

Scott Bunce: Mike. It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Mike O'Neill: Of course. I have to thank our listeners for joining us today. If you'd like even more insights about getting unstuck and moving your business forward, I invite you to subscribe to this podcast by going to Unstuck Show.

And while you're there, you can also sign up for our weekly management newsletter called The Bottom Line. So if you're a business owner, you're a business leader, and you're losing employees that you want to keep, or perhaps you're stuck in the weeds of the day-to-day and failing to execute on your long-term strategy.

If that describes you, let's talk head over to bench to schedule a call. So I wanna thank you for joining us and I hope you have picked up on some quick wins from Scott that'll help you get unstuck and on target.

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