In my more than 25 years of experience as an educator, I’ve run many mastermind groups both inside a traditional classroom and out. The strategies employed can be used in different situations and for a wide variety of vocations. Here are some reflections on my own personal experiences in mastermind groups.
Another similar model to the mastermind system that I’ve developed is one that I belong to in my local community. Once a month for an hour and a half, anywhere from 10 to 15 people gather at a local coffee shop. These are all people who run their own home-based businesses. The goal is to gather and get advice from others who are doing similar things.
One of the strengths of the home-based business meetup is that people come from all walks of life, different stages of life, different backgrounds, and even different neighborhoods within the same town. The advice tends to be rich and varied, and hearing what has worked and not worked for others helps to inform me about what I want to do with my business.
As an introvert, this was not something that came naturally to me. But when I began to think about the monthly meet-up in terms of a mastermind group, it all made sense. Here was a group of people with the same goals, hopes, and dreams. And we wanted each other to succeed.
If we can go meta for a moment, this book has been written while I’ve been in a mastermind of sorts. I’m in a group with five other authors who are hoping to create a business around their book.
We have a private Slack channel, and the leader prompts us with questions, comments, suggestions, and recommendations. We then comment on other participant’s replies, offering our own experience to make what we hope are strong recommendations.
Early on in my writing career, I was fortunate enough to be asked to join a private mastermind group. I was one of the least experienced members of the group, and yet, I was treated as an equal by those who were making five or six figures a month from their royalties.
Although this model was entirely online without an “in real life” component, I learned so much from this virtual mastermind group.
The authors entered the forum with an idea that they would run past the group, soliciting feedback. It could be a problem with their plot on their current manuscript, or it could be a marketing challenge that they couldn’t quite figure out. The key was their willingness to be vulnerable and admit that whatever the problem was, they did not have a solution for it and therefore, they were hoping to get advice from others who may have been in a similar situation.
I would watch these conversational threads and offer suggestions when I could. I was struck by how much most of the group cared about solving others’ problems, even though they had never met or even spoken to, their fellow members. A clan mentality develops within mastermind groups where participants begin to feel and act more like a family than a group of strangers.
At one point, I was starting a podcast and wanted to include a video component to it. Other than taking home movies of my children and sharing them on YouTube, I had no experience with video mastering and production. So I posed the questions and concerns I had to this online mastermind group, and with their guidance, I felt as though I had an entire production team working on my behalf. I did not become Steven Spielberg or win awards for my video podcast, but I did have a sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of how to use video in a storytelling narrative, and I learned from people who had mastered it.
My first informal introduction to mastermind groups came in the early to mid-1990s when I was teaching at a small private school in New Jersey.
One of the faculty members formed what would later be known as a Critical Friends Group. The idea was that we would sit around a table for an hour, 12 or 15 of us, and discuss our lesson plans. There were different phases of the meetings, and we ran them in different ways, but the core activity remained the same—we would take a lesson that we had either planned or taught and asked the others how to improve on it or make it better.
As strange as it may sound now, this was not common practice in the field of education, and as far as I can tell, not something that was routinely done in other industries. I think the reason this was so innovative, and not something the entire faculty did, was because it required a certain level of vulnerability. It would force you as a creative and an educator to be critical of your own work, but even more so, to be willing to show the lesson to other teachers, even when it didn’t work out as you thought it would.
In the first few years when I was involved with the Critical Friends Group, I can remember it being a mix of experienced faculty and inexperienced faculty, those toward the end of their careers, and some of us, like me, at the beginning. The biggest adjustment came in realizing that when you become vulnerable, everyone operates from the same place. Some of the most inexperienced teachers gave some of the best feedback, and some of the veterans had the most to learn from some of their failures.
One faculty member functioned as the moderator. This person was in charge of setting up the meeting, providing the structure, and generally making sure that everyone felt included and heard in the process. I can remember how important that role was, even when it changed from one person to another. I think this is a key difference between a mastermind group, as opposed to something like a book club. In a book club or a simple gathering without any hierarchy or structure, things can sometimes veer off course, or more often than not, run out of gas.
We were all employed by the same school, and our performance was directly tied to our compensation, and therefore, we were motivated to remain in the Critical Friends Group to become better teachers. At the same time, the administration had put someone in charge of making sure this group always had forward momentum.
While experimenting with different variations of the mastermind model over 25 years in education, I’ve tried to remember that the two most important elements of the mastermind group are accountability and leadership.
When some people think of a mastermind group, they automatically think of everyone sitting around a table, all with an equal voice while helping to solve problems. That is definitely true. However, without an experienced and organized person leading the mastermind group, it can quickly dissipate, and I have several examples of that from my own past.
As I became a more experienced teacher, and I saw the value in running classroom activities in a mastermind format, I could see the growth and development of my students improving in quantum leaps.
The ability of students to sit in small groups and have an opportunity to not only share what has been causing them problems, but to also help solve other students’ problems through conversation, became very empowering.
I would see students during recess and at lunch, sitting with others who were part of the small groups I had created in the classroom, continuing the conversations that had begun as part of the lesson with passion and vigor.
My superiors began to notice the way my students were transforming. Those became the first opportunities to test, refine, and share what would eventually become my mastermind model.
Even though I was hired to teach a more traditional graduate course at John Carroll University, I implemented a mastermind format for the class.
I taught a course on publishing and marketing. The idea was to teach students how to take charge of their writing career through the opportunities available in independent publishing. I developed lessons on craft, showing students how to organize their writing, draft it, revise it, and then, what to do next. The sessions were taught in a more traditional manner.
However, once it came to the marketing and publishing lessons during the semester, I shifted into a mastermind model embedded within the traditional classroom structure. We often had group conversations that focused on an individual’s problem or concern with all students making suggestions and troubleshooting. We did critique work in front of the whole group and gave each student the opportunity to have their work examined by not only the instructor but by their classmates as well.
I even used the mastermind model when it came time for students to publish their own work on the ebook retail platforms. They worked together, learning from each other in a way that everyone could benefit from.
As the professor of the class, it was my responsibility to create the environment and the rules that would allow the students to flourish. I was still charged with giving them grades, and therefore, it was not a completely egalitarian situation. I would decide who was on the hot seat and then, what we would do about it, but all of the problem-solving came organically from the class. Unlike a more traditional educational setting, I was not the most knowledgeable person in the room when it came to each and every problem.
This style of teaching was something I had developed from decades spent in the classroom. The reason it was something I kept exploring and refining was because it was the most effective for learning.
On the surface, it appears as though a direct lecture style of teaching requires the most amount of energy and preparation. But that is not the truth in practice. It takes far more thought and organization to run a mastermind session in which it appears as though things are flowing organically. But without someone in charge who makes decisions on what the group should do next, things tend to fall apart rather quickly.
In my experience, this is why critique groups and informal masterminds typically don’t last for long because there is nobody in charge to make sure the long-term health of the group is being managed.
But what are the benefits of a formal mastermind group? Check back next week to find out.
Want to take your writing chops and business savvy to the next level? Check out The Author Success Mastermind group at https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/