I recently came across a concept that would have helped me get ahead in my career faster – to weather the bumps and rocky moments, and to learn to avoid some of them altogether.

It’s called a mastermind. If only I had known about it back in the day!

What is a mastermind?

A Mastermind is a group of people who have chosen to meet regularly to share their knowledge in a confidential setting so that each member can progress faster and more easily, and navigate challenges more successfully by using the collective wisdom of the group.

The concept was pioneered in 1927 by Napoleon Hill, who defined masterminds as “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”

I hadn't heard of masterminds until I became an entrepreneur, and my most recent experience of it was last weekend. It was great, and I’ll tell you about it in a moment.

But during my career, I tended to deal with challenges on my own. In fact, I thought it was a badge of honor to crack the code by myself without needing other people's help. And when I did seek help, it was usually in bilateral conversations with one mentor, friend or family member at a time. And I did it in an ad hoc, “just in time” way.

Not only was this inefficient, it also kept me from getting fresh perspectives and encouragement. The kind that would have helped me improve my thinking, action-taking and mood. Is that what you do too?

My most recent mastermind experience

The mastermind session I attended last week was a special prize for having been one of 10 finalists in a competition run by New York Times bestseller and $500M Dollar Man, Jeff Walker, who has helped thousands of entrepreneurs get their messages out into the world in a bigger, faster way.

Beforehand, we were asked to identify a challenge we were facing and wanted feedback on, as well as the strengths and opportunities in our business.

And once we arrived at Jeff's secret headquarters in Durango, Colorado, it was all about learning from Jeff and each other, and helping each member grow their business.

We started with introductions and sharing something positive from each person’s life. Then the rest of the session was a mix of “hot seats”, where we focused in on one person’s challenge and brainstormed ways to help address it, and sharing lessons on the topics we had identified before arriving. These topics focused on challenges we had in common, ranging from being a better team leader to sharing the latest in productivity tools.

But it wasn’t all work. We also had plenty of bonding time over meals and around the fire pit in the evening. Mastermind groups can have a lot of fun, as you’ll see from these photos.

Jeff Walker Mastermind Durango Colorado June 2017 Session 2 and Lunch

Jeff Walker Mastermind Durango Colorado June 2017

Jeff Walker Mastermind Durango Colorado June 2017 Selfies

Jeff Walker Mastermind Durango Colorado June 2017 Firepit

We came from as far away as Mexico, Australia, England and Italy. We have business as diverse as teaching people to create fine art, to become better accountants and to ride horses. Our ages ranged from 20-somethings to 50-somethings.

But while our backgrounds are diverse, we have a common set of goals: to grow our businesses, scale by being online, and make a difference in the world. And most importantly, each of us walked away with some valuable insights, action steps, and trusted friendships. We can’t wait to meet again!

How a mastermind can help you

Belonging to a mastermind group is certainly helpful to me as an entrepreneur. And thinking back to my own corporate days, it would have applied equally to my professional career. Frankly, it can feel lonely when you’re facing challenges, and no one has all the answers on their own.

So, how could a mastermind help you in your career too?

Here are some of the benefits I see from being in a mastermind.

New ideas

No one has all the answers, and not even all the questions! If you’re in the right mastermind group, there will be a diversity of backgrounds and ways of looking at situations. This means you’ll get new ways to address the issues you’re worried about and new ways to be better at what you do.

Sometimes that comes from people asking you questions that uncover ideas you didn’t realize you had. Other times it comes from hearing someone talk about their situation and finding the parallels to your own.

In any case, when you have the right group together, it’ll be a breath of fresh air for your thinking.

New insights

Alongside those new ideas, you’ll also gain new insights into yourself and others. These insights are what can help you become more effective at work and in life more broadly.

They may be about what triggers your stress personality. Or perhaps it will be recognizing some pattern of habits that are no longer serving you well. Or it could be a simple question like, “why?” that leads you to an insight about some outdated assumptions that are holding you back from greater success.

You’re not the only one

Another benefit of being in a mastermind is realizing that you’re not the only one with challenges, and in fact the same challenges. Among my clients, it’s often a relief when I tell them that their obstacles aren’t unique. That other people I’ve worked with faced the issue and overcame it.

It’s a little like seeing role models – you feel better that you don’t have to invent the wheel. And being in a mastermind can help by making sure you don’t re-invent the wheel either!

Supportive community

The road we travel in our careers can feel lonely, especially the more senior you get and the more complex the challenges you face. It’s hard to know who to trust, and sometimes we feel embarrassed not to know how to fix a problem. Plus, it can feel scary to ask for help because you don’t want to show any sign of weakness or vulnerability. So we soldier on and keep things in hiding.

But with the right group of mastermind members, you won’t be alone anymore. You’ll have people you trust so you can share concerns and receive input. And you’ll also see that others have the same concerns and challenges that you do, so you can find solutions together.

Your mastermind group provides a safe haven where it’s okay to be vulnerable. And it’s also okay for people to challenge you, whether that’s to revisit your assumptions, or to stop being so hard on yourself. They will challenge you to be your best self, and help you get out of your comfort zone so you can learn and grow.

We are all dealing with the same issues, although not always at the same time. And sharing what we've learned and how that can apply in a different setting is super helpful. Feeling a part of a tribe is reassuring and empowering.

Become a better communicator

Because the mastermind sessions never seem long enough, especially when it’s your turn for a hot seat to work on your challenges, you’ll quickly learn how to make the best use of the air time you have.

That means learning to express yourself succinctly so you don’t take up most of your hot seat time rambling on, because the valuable part is listening to what others have to suggest.

And that brings me to listening skills, which you’ll also develop. A mastermind relies on every member bringing their best thinking and solutions. So listening closely to capture the wisdom from others is a key skill.

You’ll also learn to express your ideas to others in a kind yet direct way. As performance coach Alan Stein says, you give constructive feedback with “love and grace”. That way you’re more sure you can land your points and have them understood and accepted by your fellow members. And this is a great skill to have when you get back home too.

Feel great

I always feel better when I’ve been able to help someone else. Not only does it take me out of my own head and my own problems, it provides a boost to my mood. After all, it’s an accomplishment to be able to help someone you know, like and respect. So it’s highly likely you’ll come out of your mastermind feeling great.

What do you think?

Back in the day, I was so busy and paranoid that it never occurred to me to be in a group that could help me get ahead. Everything felt like it had to be under wraps, even if I wasn'’t exactly doing deep undercover work like James Bond! It’s only now that I see I was misguided.

So, how about you? What do you think about masterminds?

Having personally experienced how powerful the right mastermind can be, I’m now thinking of creating my own.

Does being in a mastermind group resonate with you? If it does, I’d love to hear what you would want to get out of a mastermind to help you in your business, career and life.

Leave me a comment and let me know.