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Your own personal board of directors – who would you choose and why?

A new Harvard blog this week really struck a chord with me in its career advice to forget mentors and employ a personal board of directors instead.  While acknowledging the exposure and connections that a corporate-sponsored mentoring program can bring, Priscilla Claman argues that ‘hitching your career to some rising manager’ is rapidly becoming outdated because in the world we now live and work in ‘changes in direction, restructuring, downsizing, acquisitions, mergers and, of course, recessions, mean your mentor is just as likely to move on or be laid off as you are’.  Claman argues that a board of directors for your career – a group of people you consult regularly to for advice and feedback – may deliver a greater return.

In terms of constructing your personal board of directors, Claman offers advice surprisingly in sync with usual governance guidelines: members should bring different strengths, offer different perspectives, and complement one another in terms of the advice they proffer.

Which got me thinking… who would I choose for my own board of directors?  And then I realised that I actually already have one, I just didn’t realise it.  In fact on reflection I’ve had one for years and while I haven’t ever called them a “board”, I think they know I rely on their advice fairly regularly:

  • John is a former boss from the consulting days who has extraordinary experience, perspectives and networks – and helps me navigate particularly blokey situations
  • Susan is an MBA buddy and gives me an honestly ambitious and driven perspective
  • Mark is also an MBA buddy and is the best negotiator I’ve ever met.  I seek his advice whenever I doubt my ability to stand firm and navigate the outcome I need
  • Sharyn is a former colleague and brings a balanced view.  We’ve leap frogged one another on several major hurdles in life and as a consequence we share openly yet never pass judgement.
  • Sandy I met through sphinxx and encourages me – through her own actions – to take more risks
  • Ric – my husband – is a successful entrepreneur in his own right and encourages me to push on and follow my dreams in my own business when I really feel like throwing in the towel!

In addition to my “board” there’s a number of advisors as well – people who really motivate and inspire me and whose advice I reflect on fondly and frequently.  Many of them have been speakers at sphinxx events and some of you reading this will also have benefited from the experiences they’ve shared, warts and all.  They’re people like Lynn Wood, Chair of Noni B Ltd who prompted me to develop a new and improved career plan; and Carolyn Hewson, non-executive director of Westpac, BHP Billiton and Stockland who encouraged me to make some tough business calls to better serve my own goals and personal values.

I found the process of mapping out these supporters and perspectives very helpful, and reassuring.  It’s reminder that we often have everything we need within our own networks, without any need to look further.  And a reminder to be thankful for that.

So I wonder… who would you appoint to your personal board of directors?

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