Contrary to what author Dan Brown would like you to believe, the Freemasons don't sip wine from skulls, hide powerful treasure in subterranean basements, or rule the world. But one thing they do have is a bad-ass men's group—a strong network of talented guys who are there to help them succeed—and that can make all the difference between you and another guy who's out there killing it. In the midst of a newer men's movement that centers on accountability and a desire to push yourself to be your best, today's new "men-only" social networking circles get guys together who want to go further. Groups who meet on a regular basis and whose mantra is "adapt, overcome, and improvise." Take a look at highly successful businessmen, athletes, and leaders. What is it they have that you don't? It's actually pretty simple. Those highly successful guys each has a team, a group of men who always have his back—and call him on his bullshit. "People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society." —Vince Lombardi
Think about this concept and the world's finest athletes: Lance Armstrong, LeBron James, Mark Sanchez. They all have one thing in common—a like-minded community that supports their greatness. In other words, they cannot do what they do alone, without coaches, teammates, and a support crew whose sole purpose is to help him reach his full potential and support him in crushing it.
The good news is you don't have to be a multimillion-dollar star athlete to be king of your world. I tried for years to figure out my relationships, career, money, and purpose—all on my own. I avoided asking my guy friends some tough questions and, instead, I isolated myself. Little did I know I could have saved a lot of time and heartache if I leveraged my contacts early on and sought out motivated, successful "bad asses" to challenge me to reach my potential. I made my last fumble before I realized I needed a "tribe" (read: guys who could see through my pathetic "social mask") that would slam me to the wall and finally tell me what a serious and guarded ass I was being in my personal and professional choices. I really had no idea.
Do you know how others experience you? Maybe you think you're the shit but actually come across as a jerk? Or people take you as shy and introverted but you think you're being outspoken? After a couple of these meetings, you'll know.
The Mancession Myth
Now I own my own business. As an expert in men's psychology I've seen the benefits of solid male relationships firsthand. They've proved so vital, that facilitating men's groups across the country and helping guys kick-start their own has been one of the most effective aspects of my coaching. Here are a few things I've discovered along the way about why you can't break out of the status quo:
- Even though you have a wide network of good friends and a girlfriend or wife, you actually feel alone. Not only that, you often report that you have to "figure it out" on your own.
- You're tired of feeling stuck and wondering "where am I going with my life?" You tend to get lost in comparing yourself with other men, which leads to lack of clarity around what kind of career you should be pursuing.
- Many of you have great ideas, start them, but then give up or change tactics over and over. You become frustrated by the cycle of starting things and never following through.
- You keep putting off that cool business idea, or you just can't seem to get in shape no matter how hard you try. Or, maybe you feel stuck in your job or relationship and never seem to be able to do anything about it.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, in this challenging economic climate, you can't afford to stumble. "The time is more than right for men to learn how to back each other up. The ceaseless pressure that men are feeling to keep themselves, spouses, and children living in the style to which they're accustomed has become more intense during this economic crisis," says columnist Douglas Todd in The Vancouver Sun. In the midst of what the media has called a "mancession"—in America three out of four people thrown out of work have been male—"there is no quicker way for men to lose their identity—their sense of self-worth, their essential masculinity—than to be dumped out of a money-earning job," continues Todd.
According to a report earlier this year in The Economist, by mid-2010, "women will cross the 50 percent threshold and become the majority of the American workforce. The economic empowerment of women across the rich world is one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years. It's remarkable also because it's produced so little friction: a change that affects the most intimate aspects of people's identities has been widely welcomed by men as well a women." What's not such good news for guys is that "millions of people who were once dependent on men have taken control of their own economic fates." Women are succeeding because they understand the power of community and relationships.
So how does a guy like you step up and go for it? First thing you need to do is look closely at the men around you—remotely and in your physical network—and ask yourself what kind of community do you want to surround yourself with. The famous self-help guru Jim Rhon once paraphrased, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." So the next question is, "are your closest bros helping or hindering you in playing a bigger game in life?"
If You Build It
Six years ago I ripped apart my current contacts and created a deliberate inner circle. Among the hundreds of names, I realized I had twelve men in my life that had the potential to help me advance—probably even take a bullet for me. I have had the same men's circle ever since. These men have had my back during some of my biggest challenges, including break-ups and job losses. They have also been there to celebrate my marriage, the birth of my son, and the purposeful work I do. I went from being alone and isolated, to feeling alive and supported. I began to take risks I had never taken before and started seeing different results. I was a completely new man.
"The strength of the team is each individual member... the strength of each member is the team."—Coach Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls
The Toughest Questions
Don't get confused about the purpose of your inner circle. This is not a twelve-step group, a church group, or a fraternity. These organizations have a common purpose in helping their memberships grow. It's also not an outlet for tying one on or scouting for chicks. Your men's group is there to serve your growth and success.
Guys normally get together in a variety of settings—watching and playing sports, drinking beer and going out, fighting wars and doing business. In a successful men's group the dynamic has to move away from the sports, social, political, and work contexts (I know, sounds crazy) and instead move toward small, private settings, with the phones shut off, and outside distractions null (unthinkable, you say?). Seriously. Shut the door and no one leaves or enters until you all drill down to the truth. Ask yourself, what kind of men's circle do you want? What's it going to do for you? Knowing the "what" and "why" will help you be clear when choosing the bros in your men's group. Let other men know you want to take the lid off what's possible. If they're not into it, let ‘em go.
Can They or Can't They? The Vetting Process
Think you've found the right guys to get your back? Before you make your final decision, know that an effective men's circle is built on four essential elements needed for success. Can your tribe: …provide clarity. Stop complacently wandering through a fog. If you are not sure about what move is next for you in life, the group can give you clarity and help you find direction. These men are not there to support you in checking out, they are there to support you in stepping up. …guarantee accountability. Most guys suck at holding themselves accountable. The group's job may be to hold your feet to the fire so you keep your word, but set aside one guy in particular as an accountability partner. Specifically have him challenge you to make commitments and keep them. It's the quickest road to achieving true integrity and trustworthiness. …challenge you. Challenge is a huge motivator for men. Offering weekly challenges can be a fun, edgy way to get results fast. "I challenge you to give a toast at the local bar before next week!" or "I challenge you to tell your boss the truth before Wednesday's all-staff meeting." The potential is infinite if you have men who aren't afraid to go deep to succeed. …offer security. There's no need to go it alone. Why be that dude in his 40's who's hitting a mid-life crisis with no one to turn to in his hour of need? Your inner circle of brothers will support you through anything and help you strengthen whatever community you already have. It could be the single biggest asset in your life.
"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships."—Michael Jordan
The Digital Evolution
At no other time in history has technology, the economy, communication, and desire come together to allow you to connect with anyone you want in the world, especially those who will help you in your quest to be the best. And making these connections has never been easier or more welcomed: people must improve, and, in many instances, reinvent themselves in order to stay competitive in the ever-evolving and consolidating workforce. You have a formidable resource literally at your fingertips in online social networking tools as well as available, talented bodies who have been laid off. This is your opportunity. Use it!
First, strip-mine your friend networks. Take a close look at your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter contacts, as well as those in your address book; review their most recent work and personal histories; and look specifically for the game-changers, paying no mind to geography or how you originally met.
Of those men you selected, how many could you actually meet with in person on a regular basis? Reach out to the five to ten of the most truth-oriented and trustworthy. You may be surprised by how many are close by. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less and less people are moving and relocating due to the economic downturn. While this news can be bad if you're looking to move to your dream town, the upside is that "staying put" can strengthen communities. The memberships in your local organizations, clubs, and institutions will be robust and more dynamic. Also, staying put causes gains in stability and continuity for families, neighborhoods, and after-work professional scenes, not a bad side effect. That said, if some of your top choices are remote, don't ditch the contact. Get set up on Skype and VuRoom and proceed get in each other's business.
From Mobile Post to Meeting Up
While technology has made sweeping changes in how we interact, one thing has remained the same. According to MeetingNews Research, 95 percent of men still prefer to meet and network in person. No matter the efforts of the digital world, the belief still stands that people prefer to do business with people they know, like, trust—and can see, hear, and touch. BNI, the largest business referral organization in the world, reports that the key to their members' success is leveraging the power of face-to-face, word-of-mouth referrals. So instead of wondering what's happening to real-time, old-school communities as online communities grow and prosper, maybe we'd better ask what's the next step for these online communities?
It's not surprising that now many of the top social networking companies are closing the digital loop: web sites like Meetup.com—5.7 million members strong—encourage online networking groups to meet in person and makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting face-to-face. Twitter hashtags are also a means to creating community groupings by promoting conferences in real-time and generating a "live stream" from event participants. The Art of Manliness site, with its online community of 5,000 +, is now branding in-person "Art of Manliness Meetups" nationwide.
As the latest online networking data shows, men are already halfway there in nurturing online relationships and bridging their online and real-time communities. In the first study of its kind based on a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users, researchers at the Harvard Business School have discovered "an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman." The study, published online by The New York Times, also cites: "although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15 percent more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other."
Taking the concept full circle, social networking service Foursquare is revolutionizing when and where you physically hang out. The fast-growing, year and a half old "friend-finder" is both city guide and insta-meetup scene. Currently available in 31 U.S. cities as well as Canada, London, and Amsterdam, Foursquare's appeal is its underground nature-fans say it's not filled with nosy mother in laws, celebrity clutter, or annoying co-workers. Members can "check in" with each other at any given time via cell phone GPS, which alerts their friends to their current location. Don't like being tracked like Jack Bauer from 24, you control it by adding only who you trust to see your real-time footprints. Had a tough day at work, argument with your girlfriend, or just nailed that major account? Skip texting or calling altogether and indulge in a little planned serendipity with members of your circle, when and where you need it.
Really, Don't Go There…
While I've spent all this time telling you what to do, here are a few things to avoid at all costs.
- Allowing women in: While the emotional acceptance and outside perspective that a woman can provide is ideal, it's not welcome in this context. Men need the freedom to be uncensored. They also need the "challenge" of other men. Unfortunately because many men are too afraid to get real with other men, their wife or girlfriend can also become "mommy" or "nag." Free her up to be your lover rather than your mother.
- Ignoring boundaries: Don't forget, this is an exclusive, invite-only men's group, and for it to work, members will need to hear personal details of your life. So think twice before inviting family, college beer-drinking buddies, or old high school pals into your inner circle. Chances are they'll have other agenda.
Breaking the Guy Code
I'm not talking about getting rid of your best guy friends. But I am talking about taking stock and exploring what is possible with certain connections and to demand the best out of each other. Heck, then why bother having contacts at all? Remember, I hung around guys who were awesome and fun to be around, but they had no idea how to support me in going deeper. I was afraid to get real with other men because I thought they would judge me as gay or too feminine.
Because of this dynamic, I didn't go as deep as I could have with the awesome male friends I did have in my twenties. I was scared and so were they. I just wanted to fit in, be liked, and get girls. I subscribed to what men's sociology expert Michael Kimmel in his book Guyland calls the "Guy Code," an unspoken agreement to "not go there" concerning a variety of real-life struggles and meaningful topics. In doing so, I surrounded myself with guys who colluded with me in living a mediocre life and didn't have the balls, or skills, to call out my B.S.
What's not B.S.? That the Guy Code breeds conformity. It's time to collude with the masterminds and see what you are truly capable of. Besides, there's something kind of cool about sipping Chateneuf du Pape from a skull.