Support networks are your fifth emergency service when it comes to progressing your career. As I discussed in my blog about support networks having a robust work network can help you unlock your value within an organisation and help you find your next role. Your personal board of directors are an important group within your work network specifically providing you with a sounding board and a critical voice for your actions and choices.
Women in particular tend to have an over-reliance on a single advocate within an organisation, usually their direct line manager or someone quite close to them within the organisation's structure. If this advocate leaves the organisation then you can be back to square one or even in a worse position. The key to progressing your career and also ensuring that during periods of redundancy you are well protected is to create a robust personal board of directors. Not all of these 'directors' need to be working within your firm and actually it is vital that some of are not, to help give you a wider perspective on issues and also help guide you towards any new opportunities.
Conscious network design for your personal board of directors means that you are being pro-active in your choices. You are not waiting to bump into your next director but rather are seeking out people who can actively contribute to your open board positions.
What kinds of positions should you be looking to fill?
A good starting point is to have at least four of the following posts filled at any one time.
The relationship expert - this is the person who loves connecting people. They love it when you ask for help and will go out of their way to find the right person to help your answer your question. While they are vital in helping you develop your wider network don't overuse this particular board member or take them for granted.
The insider - this is not the office gossip but rather someone who always seems to have their finger on the pulse on the latest developments in your organisation. They don't have to be senior but they do need to be reliable. This person can often be an introvert so tread carefully and make the effort to build up both a solid personal as well as professional relationship.
The critic - this is the person who will help you make better decisions by being honest with you about the impact of your actions and choices. It can be tricky to hear that you are not taking the best route but they genuinely want you to do your 'best work'. The Critic is invaluable is providing you with a soundboard to explore options and opportunities.
The influencer - this is the person who will help move forward your ideas. They are often quite senior and highly respected but once you make a connection with them they will go out of their way to help you. This is the hardest board position to fill as you will need to work the hardest to find them.
There are definitely other board positions you can create but if you are able to start with this strong backbone then any others you find will be an added bonus.
How do you approach someone to be on your board?
Once you have identified the type of board members you need the next much trickier step is asking people to actively part of your board. The easiest way to start the relationship is via a connection which means working on your work network. The wider your network the more chances are you'll be able to identify your future directors. If you don't have a connection via someone else then sometimes the best thing is to approach them directly, letting them know what interests you about them and why you want to get to know them. Flattery is a powerful force and especially if you can also offer something in return the chances are they will say yes.
How do you maintain your relationship with your board?
Depending on your personality and the nature of your board members your relationship with them can be as formal or informal as you like. Your interaction can be at a set time each month or quarter or on an ad hoc basis when you need help. Your board of directors are not your mentor so a less structured relationship is to be expected. I can go months without contacting one of my board members. For one board members if I haven't been in touch for a while and I do need their help then I always make sure to rebuild my relationship first - working around their availability and asking about their work/day/lives before focusing on what I might need from the interaction. On the other hand my Critic board member is happy for me to reach out to her at the last minute knowing that she will almost always be able to find time for me because someone was able to do that for her in the past and she knows the value that it can have on a career. Get to know your board members and fit around their personality and schedules.
I've had a board of directors over the past year and have found it pretty transformational. I'm looking to expand my board members in 2019 beyond the four types described above as I still feel there is some areas where I need additional help. Specifically I'm looking for a Manager Role Model to help me be a better manager and also a Super Networker. I'm hoping to fill both these positions from outside my organisation so if anyone has any suggestions please let me know on my twitter handle @diversitypuzzle and good luck creating your own board of directors.
All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.