Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Personal Board of Directors for Your Career

Consider a business as the human body.  The board of directors is the head with the remainder of the body as the operations.  Broken down into action verbs - the board of directors "thinks" and the operations "do".  The boundaries are not strict, though.  Like the human body, these functions work together so the business can reach its full potential.  
A personal board of directors is important for the following three reasons:
  1. Outside Perspective.  Your career decisions may have a strategic purpose with strong reasoning, however if you are the only person who can understand the design - there is a latent danger to your career.  There are career details that may not rise to attention because you have gone over them so many times.  Moreover, there is a branding element to the messaging you are sending to others.  A board of directors are outside perspectives.  Outside being a perspective that is not yours, which is why it is valuable.  You are responsible for putting that thinking into action.
  2. Accountability.  When you communicate with your individual directors, there is usually a length of time between those communications.  Think once a quarter.  The director takes a mental snapshot of you from your January meeting and brings it with when you meet in March.  And because time moves, there is an expectation that you have been working towards your career goals otherwise what is the purpose for meeting.  A personal board of directors cares about you, but that does not mean they want to waste their time repaving the same roads.  You are responsible for driving the action.
  3. Mentoring.  Your directors have their own set of talents that they use for their own purposes.  Be a sponge of those talents.  There are stacks of knowledge that we all have access to, it is the judgment behind the use of that knowledge that separates the great from the good.  The need for mentoring grows as you grow in your career, not only for the key insights, but also as a countermeasure to an increasingly specialized knowledge set.  It is amazing the amount of knowledge people carry around.  You are responsible for tapping into it.
Here are some suggested rules for choosing your directors:
  • Choose an odd number such as 3 or 5 directors.  Though they will not be voting on any motions in your life, it is important to have a majority opinion.
  • Select a mix of generalists and specialists.  Generalists see the big picture whereas the specialist sees the details due to the narrower view.  The categories will be evident within the potential directors career track. 
  • Reach out to 2nd or 3rd tier connections.  In other words, attempt to stay away from friends and family.  There is a certain level of "arms-length" dealing that you want to have to promote candor and honesty.   
  • Represent functional knowledge of business.  A director with marketing expertise can advise you on your brand messaging even if you are a finance professional.  The origin of the perspectives should be different to create the diversity.
  • Possess a strong point of view.  The directors must have their own mind without much regard to your feelings.  The advocacy is about your best interests, not making you feel good.  Get a sweet treat while meeting for coffee, it helps to keep a smile on your face.
This is about you asking for support in reaching your full potential.  Take the first step and ask.  I did.