Being a CEO is difficult in many respects. You need to be an athlete, as you must maintain a mastery of many disciplines at once: leading people, maintaining a purpose and vision, overseeing products/service offerings, managing your board and investors. It is a tremendous amount to juggle for one person.

Many CEO's I know have shared with me a constant desire to find resources to learn and imporove their skills and capabilties in all the areas they are expected to master.  No matter how much success or experience they have, they always want to stay ahead and be current. The pace of business today makes this even more relevant, as the technology, methods and viable business models available to all of us are changing rapidly.

Join a CEO Business Network

When another CEO asks my advice for what they can do to stay current, maintain their skills, get perspective on their business or just keep learning and growing as a leader - the number one thing I recommend they do is join a well respected CEO peer network.

Ideally, if you look to join a CEO business network you want to try to qualify for one that maintains a focused and high level of peer qualifications for entry.  Examples of this include EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and YPO (Young Presidents Organization). These organization will only admit you to their network if you are meeting certain criteria  - such as running a business of a certain size, or being a founder vs. a hired gun CEO. The purpose of these admissions criteria is not exclusivity, but instead to create a focused environment of learning, and networking. Do your research and find an organization that is the right fit for you, your company and your professional growth goals as a CEO.   

 If you are accepted to organizations like these the benefits can be significant. First, you expand  your network, and meeting many other CEO's means learning. It also means problem solving - sharing your issues with others who have been there before - or handled similar problems in different ways.  This type of exchange can be extremely valuable, its like a perpetual higher education that is always current with the times.  

Surround Yourself with Expert Advisors

Whether your investors require it or not, form a board at your company.  This could be a board of advisors if not a board of directors.  Put people on the board who challenge you. Put people on the board who are diverse, both in their backgrounds and their knowledge. Maybe you have a product expert, a finance expert and a managerial expert, all part of your board. Meet with them quarterly - take them through your biggest successes and challenges and have them provide guidance and weigh in on the direction you are taking the company.  This will help keep you accountable, and also keep you learning while being more prepared for anything that may come your way.  A board of advisors is not in your office everyday, so they maintain a certain level of objectivity and can provide outside perspective on issues you are way too close to see.  

Make time

This is the third and most proven way to enhance your skills as a CEO.  You literally have to make time. For many, this will require extraordinary discipline, for others this will be an issue of the stage of the business you are running. If your business is still a startup, and you are doing everything your self, with little infrastructure or management team - you will not be ready to join an organization like EO or YPO yet. To truly receive a benefit from CEO peer groups, you need to put in a lot of time.  It may be a better idea to start by surrounding yourself with a board of advisors, and as your organization gets more mature - as you delegate more work and spend less time doing everything - you can carve out more time for networking and peer learning at a later stage.

No matter how well or badly things are going for you in your business, no matter how large or small your company - setting aside time each week for self improvement is the different between the best CEOs and the ones who burn out or get replaced. In addition, meeting other CEOs and learning from them may be one of the most exciting and fun parts of the job. For me, the relationships I have developed over the years I have spent as  a CEO have been the most rewarding aspect of my career. 

Published on: Jul 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.