How Listening to Leslie Knope Changed My Life

—Amy M. Gardner

“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration.  Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”

-       Amy Poehler 

Three years ago, I didn’t know what a mastermind was.  Today, I know that my accomplishments over the last two years are attributable in many ways to the focus, accountability, and development that a mastermind provided.  In short, Amy Poehler (or, as I prefer to think of her, Leslie Knope) is right.  Let me back up.  

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In case you aren’t familiar with them, a mastermind is a group of people who come together to learn, grow, and hold each other accountable as they move forward on their own goals and dreams.    

In 2017, I was in a group that was styled as a mastermind — people in the group would take turns researching and presenting on specific topics of interest to all of the participants, we met twice per month by phone or Google Hangouts, and each of us shared our goals and progress towards them with the other members, who would take turns doing some informal coaching of each other.  While at first I thought the group was better than nothing, in the end it was almost worse than nothing, because (I now realize), none of us had skin in the game.  Consistently late for calls or join halfway through?  No biggie.  Unprepared to present on the topic you volunteered to present on?  Life happens.  Zero progress on your goals in the last two weeks, four weeks, or six weeks?  We understand.

Basically, while the intentions were good, the lack of a clear leader, accountability, or investment by each of the members meant that rather than being a boost, the group was a drag on my energy as those who were committed to and making progress towards goals got irritated with those who weren’t, those who weren’t often got defensive or took the group off-track. . . .It wasn’t a good use of time, and it fell apart.

Fast forward to January 2018.  I was at an event, Best Year Ever Live, that was focused on goal setting and achievement and hosted by Michael Hyatt.  During the three day seminar, Michael started talking about his own mastermind offering.  Based on my 2017 experience, I nearly tuned out his comments.  Then I realized that, even that well-intentioned if ineffective mastermind group had helped me.  No matter what other people in the group were doing, I often found myself spending hours scrambling before our calls to make sure I had something to report.  (Think of how much progress is made the day of a conference call or staff meeting and you’ll get the idea.)  If that group with no formal structure, no leader, and no real plan had helped me get results purely by virtue of the accountability those check-ins forced, I realized, maybe something organized, led by people who knew what they were doing, and where I had skin in the game could help even more, and without the frustrations.  

I gulped audibly when Michael shared the amount of the investment in his mastermind — $10,000.  Then I started doing the math.  The life expectancy of an American is just over 79 years.  If $10,000 could help me make the most of that year and the ones to come (applying the strategies I would learn), why not do it?  What was I waiting for — 2018 to not go well so I could just do it in 2019 anyway, having lost the benefits of achieving my goals in 2018?  I don’t know if my logic was sound, but it worked well enough that I already renewed for 2019.  Why?  These are the main benefits I’ve found of being in a mastermind:

  • Expertise.  The Michael Hyatt mastermind has actually changed its name and is now called BusinessAccelerator to reflect its focus on growing and scaling a business.  That’s great for me and the point I’m at in my career, because it’s on a topic where I know I have a lot I can learn, and where the leader — the former CEO of a $200 million company who has built a new business from the ground up — has a lot to teach.  I go into every session with my mastermind knowing that I will end it with something new to think about.  

  • Accountability.  Frankly, the thought of having to report to other group members that I’m not making progress towards my goals is a powerful motivator.  They’re all smart, talented, motivated people, and there’s an element of wanting to run with the big dogs that keeps me trucking along in between sessions.  

  • Pressure.  It may sound silly, but investing more than I was comfortable with meant I have pushed myself to go all-in — participating fully in sessions and in between sessions, and making sure I’ve made the most of my investment.  You’ll never find me checking my phone rather than focusing in an in-person session, or blowing off the exercises.  Just like a stretch at the gym, the financial stretch enabled me to reach farther later on.

  • Peers and coaches.  The other members in my mastermind cohort and our coaches are smart, motivated, and interesting.  Being around people with whom I have some things in common, but not everything, has meant access to a diversity of experiences and opinions that has helped me as I’ve considered big decisions in my professional and personal life over the last year.  As much as my friends, mentors, family, or spouse may want to help me, the coaches and other members of the mastermind have been a more balanced sounding board that tends to bring more honest advice.   

All this said, I have gotten a tremendous amount out of my 2018 mastermind and, in its own way, even my 2017 mastermind group.  

There are some things, though, that I would’ve changed about my own experiences, and all of that has gone into the development of Apochromatik’s Future in Focus 2019 Masterminds.  

First off, rather than 12 months or 3 months long like most masterminds, Future in Focus 2019 Masterminds are 6 months long.  We’ve found that 12 months can create the impression that there’s plenty of time, while 3 month masterminds can be too short — heaven forbid, for example, that the flu moves its way through your house, or you have a new baby that quarter.  Six months (February through August) is long enough to make more progress than you can imagine, but short enough that you will still have time to fly solo for the last 1/3 of the year, applying what you’ve learned and implementing the next steps you’ll design during the mastermind.  

Second, our Future in Focus 2019 Masterminds are led by two Certified, Professional Coaches who have developed and are living examples of expertise on time management, goal setting, and achievement.  We’ve been quoted by media of all types — from Bustle to Women’s Running magazine — and speak on these topics regularly, in addition to our career and career transitions expertise. 

Third, we’ve seen how important it can be to have one-on-one coaching in what are often called “spotlight sessions” during a mastermind (where one person is coached by the mastermind leader in front of the rest of the group).  While the person being coached always has “aha” moments during and after the session, the benefits for the rest of the group are huge as well. That’s why we’re having those sessions not just at the in-person launch, but also throughout the program.  (And, with a smaller group size, everyone will have the chance to have these sessions, not just a few people.)  

We also have also seen the huge leaps our one-on-one clients make through coaching.  That’s why Future in Focus 2019 Masterminds include one, one-on-one session with an Apochromatik coach to make sure participants are making the progress they want, troubleshoot any issues, and help them keep going, in addition to the sessions in front of the group.  

My own first “mastermind” experience involved people who I never met in person, whereas my second involved only in person meetings and limited virtual communication between sessions.  I’ve seen firsthand the difference it makes in terms of trust, connection, and focus to bring the group together in person. That’s why Future in Focus Masterminds kick off with a full day together to build the trust and connection, and work through material that would be impossible to digest and learn with the day-to-day distractions of home and work.  (We are also including weekly virtual communication via Facebook or Slack to maintain momentum, in addition to monthly gatherings via video calls.) 

I’ve also experienced the advantages of a small group over a large one, which is why the Future in Focus groups are capped at 10, to ensure that everyone gets to know each other and builds the relationships that will make members trusted professional and personal resources for years to come.

Finally, based on my own experiences, I’ve seen how productive and helpful it is to have people who are carefully selected – not just people who can afford the cost.  That’s why Future in Focus Masterminds may not be nearly as big of a financial investment but have an application and interview component to make sure that everyone there will truly benefit from the experience and wants to help and encourage their fellow group members.  

If you’re ready to invest your time and resources into finally achieving your goals in 2019, I hope you’ll heed Leslie Knope’s alter ego’s advice, and mine, and consider how to harness a group of people who challenge and inspire you to change your life.  And if you’d like to learn more about Apochromatik’s Future in Focus 2019 Masterminds, click here.