Tribe, posse, hive, squad … call it what you will, I think we can all agree that having a small team of people in your corner is a critical part of your career strategy.
What happens though when you need more? Where do you go when your tribe just won’t do the trick? When you need more than your friends or people who hang out with you and high-five you when you’re awesome?
What happens when you need some cold, hard truths — even or especially when the truth hurts?
What I’m talking about here is different than your tribe. It’s your personal board of directors, who are always objective and will give it to you straight — even if it takes the wind out of your sails or pushes you way out of your comfort zone.
Recruiting and selecting your board is one of the single most important decisions you’ll make in your career. If chosen correctly, they will be with you for years, even decades. A solid board consists of people you respect, and will show up for you. Industry diversity is important as well. You want people from both inside and outside of your company, representing different industries and from different stages in your career. The right board will include people who grew up differently than you in business, enabling you to benefit from an outsider’s perspective. Many times, outsiders can see things that you or your usual mentors cannot.
Here’s an example: Many years ago, I was climbing the ladder at my company and had applied for several positions without getting an interview. I was upset and frustrated, and thinking about leaving. A big decision. So, I turned to my personal board of directors. Alan, a charter member of my board, listened to my story and responded with understanding and empathy, and then said to me point blank, “Our company pre-selects people for open positions, which is unfortunate. I support your decision to leave.” Yikes. Not what I was expecting.
His factual and unemotional comments validated my own thoughts — I wasn’t getting these roles because I was never being considered in the first place. He gave me permission and support to consider leaving, and removed the fear and anxiety for me. I made a decision based on facts rather than emotions or assumptions, and ended up staying with the company and enjoying a wonderful career for many years.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. I was leaving that same company to go lead a new team in a different industry. I was unsure, uncomfortable and doubting that I would thrive in the new role. One of my personal board members told me, as I laid things out for her, that I had been training for this new job my whole life. I knew this, of course, but somehow hearing someone else say this out loud was the push I needed to take the leap.
In the beginning of your career your board will help you make decisions, and later in your life they’ll validate the decisions you’ve already made.
Be prepared, however, to receive some tough love. Here are some real-life examples of things I’ve heard from my personal board of directors:
- “Your reputation is everything and I’ve been hearing some concerning things.”
- “Your boss is abusive, and you aren’t seeing it. You need to leave.”
- “It doesn’t matter why you were chosen, leverage the opportunity and go for it.”
- “You won’t always have the answers, and you’re going to need to trust yourself. If you don’t, you won’t succeed.”
If you’re ready to recruit your board, getting started is as simple as writing down the names of 10 potential candidates. As you’re relaxing or sitting on the beach this weekend, consider your list. Write it down. Then go back a few days later and edit the list to six people. Make sure they fit the requirements already listed, then set up a time to talk with each. Ask if they’d be willing to be connect, share advice and brainstorm career challenges with you. Then commit to touch base with each board member throughout the year and throughout your career — and keep that commitment.
If planned, recruited and executed correctly, your personal board of directors will serve you well. You will develop and nurture life-long relationships with intelligent professionals who know you and care about you and your career. They know your strengths, your limitations and, most importantly, they know and will help everyone else to know just how much you really can do.