Your career is important. It might be the area of personal development on which you spend more time than any other. However, the most successful careers are rarely the work of just one person.
As the old saying goes, "it's not what you know; it's who you know." This adage can go a step further, as your progression might ultimately come down to who knows you.
The importance of other people quickly becomes apparent in any job. From the moment your career started with the first interview, it's evident that the thoughts and opinions of others matter.
Embracing those opinions can be the difference between treading water and incredible career growth. To stand the best chance of success, you need a personal board of directors.
A Board of Directors for Your Career
Most corporate entities have a board of directors. Every public company has to have one. They're responsible for collaboratively deciding on a direction for the business. Most larger companies have specialists in finance, technology, and other critical business functions. The board might separate further into committees for a closer focus on specific areas of operations.
When you set up a personal board of directors, your career becomes the business, and you're the CEO. Those you appoint become responsible for working together and individually to set a direction and operate in your best interests to pursue success.
The benefits and importance of mentorship cannot be overstated. Some consider mentoring a vital part of career progression. Unfortunately, however, less than half of Americans have ever received professional mentoring.
Whether you've received career mentoring in the past or not, assembling your personal board of directors upgrades your aspirations beyond just one helpful individual. Just as with businesses, you have a team of specialists on hand, working together to ensure you make the right decisions.
Designing the Board
Your personal board of directors differs from a corporate one in the roles they play. For example, as an individual, you probably don't need a treasurer or chief technology officer. However, you do need experienced people to share valuable insight and opinions.
Board members should fit into three basic categories:
Your supporters are people around you that want to see you succeed. They may potentially even have a vested interest in your career development, although that's not always the best idea. Just as many people prefer not to mix business and pleasure, it's vital to consider the implications of adding close friends or family members to your board.
No matter who you select, supporters will be people you trust that are willing to give their honest opinion on what's best for you.
You're not looking for anything financial from your board. However, you ideally want a couple of people in your inner circle to impact your career progression directly.
In most cases, sponsors are senior to you, both in terms of experience and role. If you can appoint someone that could one day become your direct manager at your current company, they would represent an exceptional candidate. If you can find someone at a similar level in the industry but outside your current employer to work alongside them, that's close to perfect.
Everyone on your board will have specific expertise. However, those that improve careers for a living can be extremely useful. Ideally, your board will incorporate experts in your sector, together with those detached from the job itself but with a rounded view of the world of work.
Supporters will take care of constructive criticism when the time comes. However, it's essential to appoint someone who's not afraid to tell you what they think without waiting for the perfect opportunity.
Not everyone deals well with criticism, but it isn't easy to improve something if you don't know you're underperforming.
The critical role is the most challenging position to fill, but every personal board of directors should have at least one. Naturally, it's more important for this role than any other to trust those involved and genuinely value their opinions and expertise.
Bringing the Board Together
Once you've mapped out your board, it's time to select the right people. Given the requisite trust levels, your board will often consist of people with whom you already have pre-existing relationships.
That helps to make the initial approach less intimidating. Unsurprisingly, your choice of critics will often prove the most challenging in the hiring process.
While the roles are likely unpaid and casual, it's crucial to treat assembling your personal board like an actual hiring process. You don't need resumés and references, as you already know and value these people. However, you do need a shortlist.
Most personal boards involve between six and eight people. At the very least, you should have a first choice and a backup for each seat on the board. Then, when you already have a Plan B, you can take a more structured approach to putting people in place.
During the initial selection process, consider:
- Whether your chosen individuals will be able to make time for you and the rest of the board according to your schedule
- If they'll be able to work together towards a common goal
- Whether they bring something unique and valuable to the boardroom
Recruitment takes time. However, it's time well spent as the sooner you put together the perfect board, the sooner you'll begin to reap the rewards.
Even when your personal board is in place and active, don't discard the shortlist. If anything, you should seek to add to it as your network grows. Even trusted confidantes will come and go. You probably have decades of your career left, and priorities change. Some people might prefer to move on to a more ad hoc approach, while others might become too busy to contribute.
As long as your career growth follows the same trajectory, you know your appointments are working, and you can view turnover as an opportunity rather than a disappointment.
Benefiting From Your Board
With your board in place, it's time to put them to work.
Remember, while your board members want to see you succeed, witnessing your career advancement is their only reward. Appreciate their time and advice, and don't be tempted to over ask.
Also, consider that you're still the CEO, and you're ultimately responsible for reaching your goals. So take charge of setting the agenda whether you meet individually or as a group. Lead the conversation and share what's on your mind. Even the most experienced individuals in the corporate world may wait to provide an opinion until asked, so take responsibility for everyone's time and productivity.
Crucially, make the most of the time you spend with them. Learn something new. Make a critical decision. Ensure every board member leaves every session feeling fulfilled – yourself included.
Your personal board of directors is mentoring taken to the next level. There's no substitute for experience, and a close, trusted team of people that are where you want to be could be your ticket to the top.
Putting a fantastic team together takes time and can be an achievement in its own right. However, once in place, your board will last for your entire career – with occasional rotation – and see to it that you're well-positioned for success at every step.
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