You know the scenario all too well: You're facing a stressful challenge in your business, and you're struggling to come up with creative ideas to solve the issue. Nothing you think of on your own seems right. You're too close to your own challenge to create an innovative solution. Frustrated, you decide to sleep on the problem yet another night, hoping the answer will come to you tomorrow.

Now imagine that same scenario, but this time you have two or three other people dedicated to helping you work it out. They listen to your questions, they offer their advice, and they help you find solutions. Then, when your problem is resolved, you turn and listen to theirs. This is the essence of a mastermind.

A mastermind is a small group, usually three to five people, of dedicated peers who share and support each other through the challenges of life and leadership. It provides a mutually beneficial source of inspiration, information and collaboration for all its members.

A mastermind is different from a networking group or a common interest group in that it is a group so cohesive that the members operate as one, focusing exclusively on the needs of one member at a time.

Many leaders thrive with the support of their masterminds. They discuss business results, leadership challenges, goals and visions, individual and organizational strategy, and more. The support is practical, personal, and tailored to each member's unique characteristics and concerns.

If creating a mastermind sounds like just what you need to take your business to the next level, consider the following six steps of mastermind creation.

1. Mindmap It

What do you hope a mastermind will help you do? Provide objective advice? Be a sounding board? Hold you accountable? Having a good sense of what you want from the group will help you create it. Put your ideas onto the page in any order—a mind map—and explore all the possibilities.

2. Arrange It

Who will help you achieve your purpose? The most important element of a mastermind is the participants. As you consider the possibilities, remember to look for people who are different from you. Diversity is one of the advantages to a mastermind.

3. Suggest It

Once you have some names, extend the invitation. A phone call, an email, a meeting, a conversation over lunch—however is most comfortable for you, share your idea about the mastermind and see who's interested. Not everyone understands what a mastermind is, and not everyone wants to join one. Float the idea. See what the response is and move forward with the partners who emerge.

4. Try It Out

Once you have found people interested in joining your mastermind, get together. Hold an informal meeting to get to know each other and what your mastermind could be. To get the meeting started, reiterate what a mastermind is, how you envision it unfolding, what you would hope to get out of it, and why the people you've invited seem to be a good fit. Then go around the room one person at a time and see what they think. Here are some questions to ask:

By the end of the meeting, your goal should be to determine who is interested in formally committing to your mastermind group at this time. Then you can set a date for your first meeting.

5. Establish It

The first time your mastermind meets as a group is an important day. You will be establishing the tone for your time as a team. You will get off to a good start following an agenda that includes:

However you structure your meetings, make sure each member has the opportunity to discuss their goals, needs and next steps. With these three elements, each member is sure to move swiftly in the direction of their vision.

6. Regulate It

When a mastermind group is planned thoughtfully by people who are dedicated to each other and their goals, it can be one of the most beneficial forms of support a leader can receive.

To make sure your mastermind stays on track, occasionally go around the table and ask this question: "On a scale of one to ten, what was the value of today's meeting for you? Why?" Then talk about it. What would the group have to change to make it a "ten"? What would you personally have to change?

Assessing your mastermind this way gives members the chance to ask for what they need from the group and to take personal responsibility for anything they're holding back from the mastermind (and possibly from themselves). It also gives the group the chance to grow and evolve to become the best possible opportunity for all its members to get the support they need.

Regardless of your business or profession, you shouldn't have to go it alone. Many talented and accomplished leaders share similar struggles as you do, and they can offer a unique and objective perspective to whatever challenge you're facing.

Ultimately, your mastermind will help you become a better leader and enhance your quality of life by making you feel connected to other leaders. When you avail yourself to others and think about how you can help them, you will naturally help yourself.

JOELLE K. JAY, Ph.D. is an executive coach,
author and speaker who helps leaders achieve
top performance and business results. Joelle is the
author of
The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of
Personal Leadership.
www.networkingtimes.com/link/jay