Find a peer outside of your company

This topic is also convered by Sauna Talk podcast:

Do you ever feel that you’re somewhat stuck in what you do? Regardless if you’re running a company or a team within an existing organization… or eventually you are a specialist in your field without any people reporting to you directly, you may often feel that way.

Commonly associated within Millennials, the self-development urge is not something this generation has invented. It’s a process everyone benefits from, but perhaps only in recent years it has been brought up as one of our priorities. This change of habits and desires is something that was not in line with a previous ‘work ethos’, and as such is often allocated to the new generation Y or Z. It has something to do with the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where coming from the basic needs, through our psychological needs we’re reaching out of the top with our self-fulfillment.

Both corporates and startups have realized that self-development is an important part of a career path, job offer and employer branding in general. What’s already quite common is the inclusion of these elements from basic to medium roles in the organization. HR Teams by definition are not focusing on top management as a beneficiary, more as an internal customer. What may be the result of this focus? Lack of self-development opportunities to higher management and founders.

This is, however not only driven by lack of HR focus. It’s also natural because of the diverse and usually already rich experience of the members of top management e.g.after attending various universities, many with MBAs and years of management and field expertise. It’s not an easy task to help these guys, and it’s quite often perceived that they have already learned enough in their career.

Yes, most of them have much more experience than middle managers or fresh graduates, but does it make them less hungry and in need of further development? Of course, it all depends on the individual but, following my 20 years of management experience, it’s quite the opposite. I find it clear that these managers who value their own self-development are not only happier but are also more effective for the company and ultimately much more satisfied with their lives.

Today I’d like to share with you one tip that I’ve found very useful and effective in the field of top-managers and founders self-development. It’s about meeting peers in other organizations. Being part of the’s Management Team for close to 4 years, all of us were many times encouraged to practice this exercise. The idea was brought to us by AirHelp’s Founder and Group CEO – Henrik Zillmer. What is it about exactly?

It’s about creating a habit of finding great companies which had somewhat similar challenges to yours in terms of the past, yet still fresh, experience. Once you find such a company, find the person with a similar responsibility to yours, be it CEO, CTO, COO or CFO – whatever you’re doing on a daily basis. Get in touch with that person, arrange a video call or a personal meeting.

What is it for and what’s the purpose? There are several ways you can benefit from such a meeting.

a)    You’ll earn the opportunity to share some of your challenges and find out how others have dealt with them. You’d be surprised how similar these challenges can be regardless of the industry.

b)   You’ll meet an interesting person that has an outside view at what you’re doing. A fresh approach yet with similar expertise and background.

c)    You’ll feel better as you’ll learn from others’ mistakes and help them learn from yours. It’s an exchange which works both ways.

How to start?

1)   Think of what your key business challenges are that keep you awake at night. Make a list of 5-10 such issues. Allow that list to mature for at least a day and revise it to be sure that these are your priorities.

2)   Book yourself a short time slot where you’ll focus only on selecting the best companies that you believe might have had recent similar challenges to the ones you’re facing now. Create a list of 10 companies. Try not to focus on your local area only. Think big, but don’t shoot for companies 100x bigger than yours. Why? Because the likelihood of anyone who remembers your exact challenges still being at this organization is very limited. Aim for companies 2-3 times bigger or 2-5 years ahead of where you are now.

3)   Once you have the list of companies, figure out their structure. Who would be the right person to talk to? Remember, that person is not always going to have the same job title on LinkedIn as you have now. Tip: don’t hesitate to reach out to senior HR staff in this organization. They are often helpful in directing you to the most relevant person, so it might be the CEO who’s also interested in the development of his/her Management Team. The end result should be a list of 10 names, one for every company on your list.

4)   Pause for a day or two. Reflect on the list of people and companies. Think exactly of what you believe you could learn from every specific person you have on the list. That will allow you to create super personalized introductions to these people asking them specifically for help. Once you do it correctly, your chances of them getting back to you and willing to meet will be much higher.

5)   Reach out to people from the list with a carefully written introduction. Whenever you can, get a common connection to recommend you. You’re most likely to only have one chance, as it’s only once you can make good impression. Use that shot wisely.

Once you have a meeting or a call arranged, thing carefully of exact questions you’d like to ask. Think what precisely you want to know, do the homework of how the person’s organization has grown and what challenges they might have had in the past that could teach you a lesson. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

After the meeting, make a note of your findings and share them with your peers or whole organization if relevant. Don’t keep if only to yourself. Remember to Pay it forward when someone more junior to you will approach you for help.

Now…you’re ready. Are you up for the challenge? Let me know how it went! I’ve done it a lot and it worked every time. Start with number 1 from the list above. Share your achievement in a comment once you’ve created the list of challenges. Every journey begins with a small step.

Go for it!

Bolesław Drapella

Founder of

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