The most surprising thing about leading a business is how lonely it is and this is true whether you’ve steadily climbed through the organisation or just bought your first business and thrust yourself into the leadership limelight.

Jerry Marwood AFB

Of course, there are literally hundreds of other people who can tell you how to best run your business, be they advisors, team members, customers or suppliers.

But who can you trust?

I had a dramatic learning experience became once I moved from “corporate” retail to the world of independent retail and wholesale.

Having spent over a decade in former environment I was amazed to see how collaborative and supportive the latter was when I made the move from big box food retailing to convenience.

At the heart of this difference is a culture that actively encourages peer-to-peer learning and support. Whether that is our trade associations in the form of the FWD and ACS or the frameworks that symbol groups put in place to enable business leaders to learn from each other or more recently single purpose groups that want to highlight an issue.

The energy that comes from attending meetings where retailers talk to each other about their common challenges and opportunities has got to be witnessed to be believed. The speed at which good ideas move from one market to another as retailer after retailer takes an idea and builds on it.

You’ve only got to look at how “food for now” has revolutionised the ability of independent retailers to compete with their much bigger competitors to witness what happens when peer-to-peer learning really comes to life.

This hasn’t happened just once in a category sense but also in parts of our organisational culture that needed a kick up the backside in order to create change – witness the impact of the organisation Women in Wholesale as a prime example of what can be achieved.

This is real change driven from within the industry with a clear purpose in mind. No top-down management, no Government Grants to be seen; just a hard-core group of like-minded individuals who in their day job are often competing with each other but regularly put aside their competitive norms to apply real passion to work together to put right a wrong – positively.

The personal impact of working together in an environment for mutual benefit is also a feeling of comradeship, of relatively safety – to ask the “daft” questions that you possibly cannot in your own business. It’s also at the heart of many long-standing friendships. I’ve just read a book written by a Somerset grocer operating in the fifties and sixties and even in that era he talks about the amazing long-lasting friendships between the families of business owners who constantly networked with each other for support and guidance.