What Happened to Me When I Joined a Mastermind Group

The Dumbest Guy in the Room

Here’s a word I dread: plateau. For me, leveling out is worse than flaming out. It’s passive and lame. It reeks of things that might have been. Ten years after starting my first divorce practice I had experienced significant success. I had a large team and had stopped personally handling cases. Still, I was stuck, plateauing instead of growing and I knew a change was imperative.

The problem was I was bored with the status quo yet had not figured out how to execute a grander vision.  It wasn’t that I lacked motivation; I simply didn’t know what to do next. Every attorney who has started his or her own law practice experiences the painful realization that, years after leaving law school, while they may have a deep understanding of their practice area, they have no idea how to operate, market or scale a successful law practice.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, mastermind groups consist of like-minded, successful individuals who come together to share advice, problem solve, set goals, and hold each other accountable.  The best mastermind groups are honest, supportive, and compassionate, with a collective knowledge that can boost any business in any field.  When I finally decided to take the plunge, rather than looking for a mastermind group consisting of lawyers, I instead sought the help of a group of high-level achievers focused on direct response marketing.

This particular group met in Atlanta four times per year. I could swing the travel, but the cost of the program itself was daunting – 18K for the year.  This was a big- ticket expense for me at the time, an investment in myself and my career that I felt I couldn’t afford. And yet…I couldn’t afford NOT to do it.  So I signed the check and began preparing my materials for our first meeting.

Cut to a swanky hotel conference room in downtown Atlanta. Walking into the group, I had thought I was a high-achiever, creative thinker, and fast implementer, but after just a short time in the group it was clear to me that I was out of my depth. That was new to me and honestly, pretty unsettling, yet I clung to the words of Verne Harnish in his book, Scaling Up. “You know you’re scaling up correctly when you realize you’re the dumbest person in the room.” 

The Hot Seat and the Power of the Group

Masterminds can follow many different formats, but the format we used was a brief teaching session by the mastermind leader followed by hotseats that would involve everyone in the group over a two-day period. To understand a hotseat, just imagine a whole room full of really smart business people laser-focused on the biggest challenges you are facing.  It’s as pressurized and sweat-inducing as it sounds.  It also requires a hefty amount of vulnerability. You are admitting your weaknesses and asking for ideas, sure, but also for a new way of cracking open your limited perceptions.  Because fundamentally, being in the hot seat means asking: What is it about this that I’m not seeing?  Who or what can help me see it more clearly?

On a muggy Georgia afternoon, it was my turn.  15 faces looked at me like benevolent knights of the round table: “How can we help you?” Determined to take advantage of this opportunity, I inhaled deeply and let it fly.  For me, my problems seemed impenetrable, maybe even impossible. I could not see how to scale in my limited market. Social media was not converting successfully for us, even though I knew it should. I felt burned out as a lawyer and an entrepreneur.

I had barely finished speaking when the ideas began coming at me so fast from the group that I couldn’t write them all down, which is why all the hotseats were recorded for later viewing. The sheer variety of professional backgrounds gave this input a freshness that is impossible to find when you’re in the trenches.  There is a blindness when it comes to solving our own problems – whether we’ve just been ruminating on it too long, or are trapped in an avoidant behavior or limited beliefs.  In my experience, there is often a simple solution to most seemingly complex problems.  One guy simply said, “You’re not seeing this correctly.” His blunt appraisal felt profound. As the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

These guys had seen it all before and offered up solutions that I had never considered.  It was one of the most powerful experiences of my professional life. I gave back as well. There were things I knew about productivity, performance reviews, rapid planning and, of course, legal issues that impacted certain business decision that were valuable to the group. Often it felt better giving an idea that someone could use than receiving some great piece of advice from someone else.

The value of the mastermind group continued outside of the conference room. Over dinners and drinks at the bar, I learned as much as I had in the formal sessions. Here, I learned everything from how they created so much content so quickly to how they invested the money earned from their businesses.  It was a study in excellence.  I was also curious, how does one live excellently? Does it require morning meditation? Ample time with loved ones? Cold plunge pools and fasting? I absorbed it all.

Masterminds are complacency’s kryptonite.  Our meetings held me accountable to do great things in the meantime.  I wouldn’t dare fly to Georgia four months down the line and disappoint the guys with meager results or half-assery, which they would call out a mile away.  These deadlines motivated me to go way beyond what felt comfortable.      

My Transformation

The results of my two years in the mastermind group were dramatic.  My New Mexico practice expanded to three – one in Colorado, one in Nebraska.  I doubled my revenue; I doubled my income.  I learned to leverage and implement much faster and more effectively.  Crucially, the relationships I had made within the mastermind group became lifelong friendships, a resource I could access whenever I needed support. 

The experience was so impactful, in fact, that I was inspired to share it with the legal community. If my career could be transformed through this powerful tool, surely other attorneys could gain from it as well. So from those first tentative steps in Atlanta Georgia, the Cardinal Concepts Mastermind was born, only this time in good old Denver Colorado. Each year, we bring together a group of people who are deadly serious about creating the kind of lives and law practices they have only dreamed about, and yet, rising above all the serious business we address, there is a lightness and atmosphere of fun that is truly transformative. And now, (hopefully), I’m no longer the dumbest guy in the room.