career development

Building Your Personal Board of Directors to Transform Your Career

Many of us began our careers assuming we will never need anyone’s help to navigate our careers. What we often forget is that there’s no shortcut to experience. Receiving career guidance from people who have been in your shoes or similar shoes is important. Good mentoring can lead to greater career success, providing you with the opportunity to ask questions you may be afraid to ask your boss or friends to get unbiased, constructive feedback.

A Personal Board of Directors (PBD) is a metaphorical concept that enables you to be the CEO of your career. Whether you are just starting out or are eying a significant leadership role—you will want a good mix of people to advise, guide, and help you think differently. This “board” helps uncover your blind spots and serve as your sounding board for career decisions. Whether your goal is to change your career, lead a major project, or make a bold move, having an influential inner circle can make the journey easier. Even though this group of advisers won’t always know the situation you are in, their shared experiences can inspire, challenge, and motivate you to succeed.

Who Should be on Your Personal Board of Directors?

Finding the right mix of individuals for your PBD can be tricky – it is a balance to have people who are not emotionally invested in you but believe in your abilities and talents. Your PBD should include individuals that are willing to give honest and candid feedback, including:

  •  Someone from your industry
  •  Someone who is in or has been in your shoes (e.g., a single mother, an entrepreneur)
  • Someone who is your cheerleader but is also ready to critique your decisions
  • A leader you aspire to grow like
  • Someone of another generation who has life experience you lack
  • A networking guru who can introduce you to others

Remember that when creating an informal board such as PBD, you will not hold formal meetings or officially invite people to join. Instead, cultivate your board by asking a small handful of people, most of whom fit in more than one of the following categories:

The industry expert: This person always has a finger on the pulse of the industry. Seek out his or her help when you need intel about new industry trends, emerging project management hacks, and other opportunities. An information expert doesn’t have to be a vice president. It could be that knowledgeable colleague who everyone looks up to at work or a co-worker who’s leading cross-functional initiatives because of their knowledge base spans departments.

The Mentor: This person supports your growth and development by providing advice, feedback, and career guidance. He or she will act as a sounding board for career decisions and can help you navigate challenges at work. To enlist a mentor, identify a role model, someone who inspires you and is willing to invest in your success.

The Influencer: This board member can provide the heavy-hitting support that can guarantee the success of your work initiatives. To identify an influencer, pay attention to who is amplifying the voices of team members in meetings, advocating for their suggestions, and acting on them. It starts making your achievements known to leaders who have a track record of developing talent.

The Networker: Is there someone who can’t resist introducing you to the right people? Consider him or her for the role of networker on your PBD. Pay attention to who is organizing well-attended social events at work.

Things to Consider 

The first step in assembling a PBD is to know why you need one. Before you decide which potential mentors to approach, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I want to advance my career?
  • What do I want to learn to be a better version of myself at my job?
  • What do I want my career to look like in the short and long term?
  • What professional strengths do I have? Am I putting them to use?
  • What are the weaknesses that are holding me back from achieving my goals?

As you consider the buckets above, be strategic and pragmatic with your selections. It’s not wise to include a family member or close friend who could be too emotionally invested in your success. Instead, seek board members such as former professors or known LinkedIn connections who will provide you with an unbiased opinion.

A diverse mix of board members leads to better advice and better career development. You should shoot for a good mix of tech skills, industry experience, age, and knowledge. You should also select people you regularly keep in touch with, so when you reach out to them, it feels natural to them.

My personal board of advisors has changed over the years, and yours will as well. Eventually, you may find that you’ve outgrown an advisor. At the end of every year, re-evaluate your board according to where you are in your career transition. As you progress in your career, you may want to add members or politely remove some. Most advisor relationships are not built to last a lifetime, and that’s OK.

Final Thought: Your board members are your support team. They are your go-to mentors to help with whatever your career throws your way. Board members can help make the right professional connections, identify areas for growth and refine your career goals as long as you plan the process of cultivating the board diligently.

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