Who’s On Your Personal Board of Directors?

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Do you have a personal board of directors?

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Priscilla Claman defines this unique set as “… a group of people you consult regularly to get advice and feedback.” Claman adds, “There’s no need to hold meetings or even inform each person of his or her status as a board member—but you do need to select the right people and stay in touch.”

While it’s useful to cultivate an extensive network of professional contacts, developing a strong, tight-knit, inner circle—your personal board of directors—of individuals who fulfill a specific role is even more beneficial. Just as companies take great care in selecting their corporate board members, so should you. As Claman suggests, “The people you choose should have different contributions to add to your thinking.”

At a recent Women in Computing conference, I spoke to Nehal Mehta, Director of Global Partner Sales with Veritas Technologies LLC in Mountain View, California. “Your personal board of directors includes people who are invested in the advancement of your career,” says Mehta.

According to Mehta, her personal board is not only a diverse group of leaders, influencers, and corporate heavy hitters, each of whom brings unique strengths. They are also a team of individuals who inspire, challenge, and motivate her to make bold moves.

Several years ago, an ‘informational powerhouse’ who knew of Mehta’s passion for working with global teams mentioned that her company was looking to open an office in China. “The firm needed a couple of teams to pilot the initiative,” says Mehta. “After learning of my interest, my sponsor stepped in and enabled me to move forward with expanding my team into China. Several of my mentors then helped me to understand best practices and navigate through the challenges.”

When you’re building a personal board of directors, consider including these five types of people:

1. The Connector

This is a “people person,” one who knows—and has great relationships with—just about everyone. These people love to open doors, make introductions, and help grow your network.

Is there someone you know who can’t resist introducing you to the right people? Consider him or her for the role of connector. When you ask a question, you can expect a connector to link you to two or three others who know the answer.

Connectors are also at the hub of thriving social networks. “How many LinkedIn connections or Twitter followers do they have?” Mehta encourages you to assess. “For example, many people working in talent acquisition are good connectors,” she says. And pay attention to who is organizing well-attended social events at work. Then, ask for help making a new connection. Chances are they’ll be energized by the request, and if so, you may have found your connector.

2. The Informational Powerhouse

This person always has a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the organization and in the broader business environment. Seek out this person when you need intel about new trends, ideas, projects, opportunities, and so on.

According to Mehta, an informational powerhouse doesn’t necessarily need to have a senior job title, such as Vice President. “This individual usually has a breadth of responsibility, and can connect you with new projects and opportunities that will be beneficial for both parties,” she says.

It could be the knowledgeable colleague who everyone looks to for the final word in meetings, because this person is so well-versed in how customers relate to your product. Or the colleague who’s acting as a bridge between cross-functional teams because their knowledge base spans across different departments such as engineering, marketing and finance. “It’s the person you follow on Twitter or whose blog you keep coming back to because the writing about your company or industry issues is so insightful,” says Mehta.

3. The Influencer

This person makes things happen. If you need folks to get on board with a new idea or initiative, tap your influencer. This board member has a way of eliciting agreement and collaboration from teams, and can provide the heavy-hitting support that can guarantee the success of your initiatives.

“An influencer is someone who has earned the respect of the organization for his or her professionalism and work ethic,” says Mehta. 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. And think about who you’d like to have backing you up next time you deliver a presentation or proposal, because that show of support will add to your credibility.

Once you’ve identified an influencer, “volunteer for a stretch assignment to work on an influencer’s team,” advises Mehta. “This gets you acquainted and can enable that influencer to recommend you for future projects.”

4. The Mentor

This person supports your growth and development by providing advice, feedback, and guidance. A mentor also acts as a sounding board for career-related decisions and can help you navigate challenging situations at work.

To enlist a mentor, start by identifying a role model, someone who inspires you and is willing to invest in your success. Let them know something specific you admire about them (everyone likes a compliment.) Then request a 30-minute meeting to get some actionable solutions to touchy or challenging career-related questions. If that conversation goes well, ask to schedule a regular check-in meeting on a quarterly basis. If the answer is yes, you’ve found yourself a mentor.

5. The Sponsor

This person is an influential individual who can accelerate your career, by putting your name forward for career opportunities like high-visibility assignments and promotions.

Unlike mentorship, the catch with sponsors is that you don’t choose a sponsor, a sponsor chooses you. But there are actions you can take to make it more likely that an influential sponsor will want to advocate for you. It starts with demonstrating outstanding job performance, and making your achievements known to leaders who have a track record of developing talent. And follow Mehta’s example of having clear career goals, and sharing your goals with potential sponsors so that they know which opportunities to send your way.

Recently, Mehta’s career pivoted from working in Engineering Quality Assurance to Technology Alliances and ultimately into Partner Sales. “My sponsors made the opportunities available. My mentors coached me through my apprehensions and helped me negotiate successfully to land the roles. I would not have had the opportunities I’ve benefited from in my career if not for my personal board of directors and their support.”

What’s your most important career goal? Whether the goal is to advance your career, make a course correction, lead a major project, or make a bold, fearless move, having an influential inner circle can make the journey easier. Now that you know the criteria for a well-rounded your board of directors, who will you add to yours?

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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