Why Don't You Have a Career Board of Directors?
Crafting Your Dream Team for Success
We're often told that life is a solo journey and that our success or failure rests squarely on our own shoulders. While individual determination and resilience undoubtedly play a significant role, there's another, less-touted aspect that's often overlooked: the power of a personal board of directors.
You might be wondering, what on earth is a personal board of directors? Is it an actual boardroom full of people in suits and ties sitting around plates of croissants? Well, not exactly, but it's a concept that can greatly influence your life's trajectory. Essentially, your personal board of directors is a carefully curated group of individuals who serve as your advisors, mentors, confidants, and sounding boards throughout life's various chapters.
Imagine having a team of experts and trusted friends, each offering unique perspectives and insights. Whether you need guidance in your career, someone to celebrate your wins, or a hand to hold during tough times, your personal board of directors is there. Let’s explore why this concept is crucial for everyone, regardless of their industry, level, or role.
Navigating the stages of your career, the path ahead can feel uncertain and full of questions. What kind of work truly fulfils you? How can you strike the right balance between your personal life and career? What are your core values, and how do they align with your professional aspirations? These are just some of the perplexing questions that often plague professionals.
While you might want to take control and make confident decisions, the truth is that early in your career, you can benefit greatly from a support network. This is where the concept of a personal board of directors comes into play.
Maybe even a career board of directors.
Crafting Your Career Board of Directors
The idea, first introduced by Jan Torrisi-Mokwa in her book "Building Career Equity," is not the same as having multiple mentors. A mentor is typically a senior colleague whose career you admire or someone you seek to emulate in leadership style or experience. Mentorships usually involve formal, one-on-one relationships and can be time-consuming.
On the other hand, a career board of directors is a more extensive network of individuals who serve as independent advisors. Just as a company looks to its board for guidance, these individuals offer support in a broader sense. Each director meets different parts of you and your life - a great people manager, a school-gate parent who is on their second rodeo while you are on your first, a savvy business-builder, a friend with strong shoulders, a skilled colleague who seems to go beyond office politics (also known as unicorn?), and so on. Each one is a unique version of a 4 a.m. friend and brings you advice specific to their expertise.
The goal here is to build a group of people with experiences vastly different from your own, who can offer fresh perspectives when needed.
Maybe we can conjure up some personas that will remind us of someone we know and help us find our own board.
The Mentor: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett Bill Gates frequently refers to Warren Buffett as his mentor. A mentor is typically someone who has walked the path you aspire to travel. They offer wisdom, advice, and a broader perspective. Having a mentor can save you from pitfalls and guide you toward the right decisions.
The Cheerleader: Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou A cheerleader is your ultimate supporter, someone who celebrates your wins, no matter how small. They infuse you with positivity, remind you of your worth, and provide that extra boost of confidence when you need it most.
The Sage: Steve Jobs and Edwin Land (the inventor of the Polaroid camera) The sage is the wise, experienced individual known for their pearls of wisdom. They provide guidance rooted in deep insight and a profound understanding of life's complexities. After meeting Land, Jobs said, “Yeah, that’s just how I feel. It’s like when I walk into a room and I want to talk about a product that hasn't been invented yet. I can see the product as if it’s sitting there right in the center of the table. What I've got to do is materialize it and bring it to life, harvest it, just as Dr. Land said.”
The Connector: Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker "Drop the 'the'", Sean Parker told Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network". Connectors are individuals who introduce you to new people, opportunities, and ideas. They expand your network and open doors you might not have discovered on your own.
The Realist: Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt While optimism is important, a realist offers a balanced perspective. They help you see things as they are, identify potential challenges, and create pragmatic plans to overcome them. As Sandberg was job-hunting in Silicon Valley, she did what any MBA would do - made a spreadsheet. She reached out to the new CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt.
One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure there was actually a job there at all. Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage. And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies. So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spread sheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria. He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, Don’t be an idiot.Excellent career advice. And then he said, Get on a rocket ship.
The Innovator: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla Innovators are creative thinkers who push you to explore new horizons. They inspire fresh ideas, encourage experimentation, and challenge the status quo. Tesla arrived in New York in 1884 and was hired as an engineer at Thomas Edison's Manhattan headquarters. He worked there for a year, impressing Edison with his diligence and ingenuity.
The Confidant: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia Your confidant is the person you trust with your deepest thoughts and vulnerabilities. They provide a safe space for you to share your fears, dreams, and secrets without judgment. The bond between the legal giants — who served together on the bench for nearly 23 terms — has become, in the social-media era that outlasted them, an all-purpose metaphor for the value of civility in disagreement.
Consciously Building Your Personal Board
Your personal board of directors won't assemble overnight. It's a lifelong process of nurturing relationships and seeking out individuals who bring value to your journey. Here's how to get started:
Assess Your Needs: Determine what areas of your life could benefit from support and guidance. Do you need career advice? Emotional support? Creative inspiration? Tailor your board to address these needs.
Network Actively: Attend events, join organizations, and connect with people who align with the personas you're seeking. Building a personal board often begins with building relationships.
Express Your Intent: Don't be shy about expressing your desire to connect with someone who could fill a particular role on your board. Be clear about your expectations and how you believe they can contribute.
Nurture Relationships: Building a personal board is not just about what you can get; it's about mutual growth. Nurture your relationships, offer support in return, and show genuine appreciation for your advisors.
Adapt and Evolve: Just as life changes, so should your personal board. Regularly assess whether your board still meets your needs and be open to adjusting it as necessary.
Giving Back to Your Network
Like every other relationship, these are also two-way streets. Building the board needs time and energy; maintaining it even more so. And without too much of a strain, you can also find ways to give back. Celebrate your successes together, say thanks often and mean it, cheer them on professional platforms like LinkedIn, and help out when their niece needs an internship. Do what you can to nurture the team.
The concept of a career board of directors is a powerful one, applicable to individuals in any industry, role, or stage of life.
Building this diverse team can be your way of getting on a rocket ship.