As a business leader you’re constantly faced with challenging issues, opportunities and tough decisions. Managing such circumstances is what business leaders do of course, but some do it much better than others. The difference might be due to experience, skill or talent; but when that’s not the case evidence suggests the business leader has not established a broad enough support network. Yes, it can be lonely up top – but it doesn’t have to be. Every executive, entrepreneur and business owner can and should build a broad support network – and not the “good ole boy” variety. Rather, a network from which you receive leading edge information and experienced, unfiltered feedback on your issues and opportunities – from people who will tell you what you need to know, the brutal truth, rather than what they think you want to hear. Here are three tips to do so:

1. Establish a “Top Ten” Support List

This is not a list of casual contacts or acquaintances. It is a list of ten (twenty is better) individuals you think very highly of and value their opinions and perspectives. Individuals who have depth of experience and have demonstrated skill, talent and know-how in a variety of disciplines. Keep in regular contact with your top ten list by sending periodic emails and snail mail with items of interest. For example, what you’re working on, successes you’ve achieved, things you’ve learned. Once you’ve established some regularity to your outreach process don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call some of these individuals and ask for their input on a specific challenge or opportunity you’re dealing with. In most cases the individuals will be flattered that you’ve solicited their advice and they will be happy to give it to you. Now if you don’t have at least ten individuals on your list you have some additional work to do. That means you need to get to tradeshows, seminars, conferences, organization committee meetings, etc. Meet and select the high caliber people you would like to add to your list and start your outreach process. In a matter of months you will have gained familiarity and established a highly professional image with those you selected.

2. Start a Master Mind Group

A master mind group is a group of people who meet regularly to help each other achieve their goals. Much different from a networking or business luncheon group, master mind groups are typically small, highly disciplined in meeting regularity and agenda, and have members who are committed to helping each other. Members not only offer suggestions to help each other with their goals they often take on tasks between meetings to learn more and stay focused on achieving specific results. They are very results oriented. To start such a group select three to five people you can collaborate with, draft out a specific purpose and objective statement for the group and establish meeting parameters all can agree to. The more you put into a master mind group, i.e. the greater the collaboration, the more you will receive from it.

3. Conduct a Survey

Surveys are not only an excellent method for getting feedback and advice on important issues, they can also be terrific vehicles for building and expanding your supportive environment. When designing surveys be sure to give us much attention to selecting survey participants as to the survey itself. After all you want incisive feedback and advice so get it from top notch thinkers and doers you have high regard for. For the survey itself – keep it simple. Five to ten questions or so is best. Announce the survey ahead of time with a postcard, letter or phone call letting people know it is coming, the subject, why it’s important and of course how it will be used. For best results, have the survey sponsored by an educational institution, a trade group or association or even a small consortium of companies or professionals. If your survey looks professional and the process appears official and sanctioned you will be able to personally follow up with many key participants. Business leaders enjoy helping other business leaders and a well designed and executed survey will open many doors to contacts you would like to make.

In running a successful business the brutal truth is who you know matters as much as what you know, maybe even more. So if you need to build, expand or maintain your personal support network, these simple tips will help you do so, and rapidly.