January is National Mentoring Month. While we typically think of mentorship as a one-on-one relationship, as the workplace changes, having just one or two disparate mentors is no longer sufficient.
There is growing consensus that executives, managers, and junior staff alike need a board of directors – a thoughtfully developed group of 8-10 mentors and role models you can consult regularly to get advice and feedback. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says, “The process of assembling and making good use of a personal board is a conscious, deliberate step toward answering” the question: what kind of person do you want to be and what vision do you aspire to?
To begin building your personal board of directors, learn about the 5 types of board members you should have:
“The Connector” is someone who is well-established, respected and knows just about everyone worth knowing. Having someone like this on your board will open networking and business opportunities, both of which are critical as you rise up the ranks. Betty Liu of Inc. Magazine notes, “I’ve met a half dozen true connectors in my life and without them, I would not have had as much success. Nobody knows why they love connecting people, but they all share traits of having bountiful amounts of energy and loving new ideas.”
Another benefit of having a “Connector”? If no one on your board knows how to steer you in the right direction in terms of information or expertise, this person will likely know someone who can.
This is a board position that could be executed equally well by someone senior to you or by one of your peers. Studies have shown that “People are terrible at recognizing that the constraints that exist today are the same constraints that will exist tomorrow, next week and beyond,” and “the Challenger” exists to push you beyond your constraints.
This person should keep you accountable, will hold you to task and give you the nudge to get and/or keep you moving toward your goal, whether you like it or not. They will provide honest, constructive criticism when you need it most, something that not everyone is good about doing.
It is important to not only dream big but to also give voice to these aspirations. That said, people are often hesitant to do so for fear of failure. Your “Dreamer” will think big and believe in you, thus motivating you to accomplish goals that at one point might have seemed unthinkable. For me, it’s my triathlon coach who tells me, “You can achieve amazing things in this sport if you keep doing what you’re doing.”
You know what they say about shooting for the moon. Well, this person can be your cheerleader along the way and help make sure you do just that.
This is a person you trust and respect, who will advocate for you when you need to be more visible. A sponsor’s guidance, and perhaps more importantly, their vote of confidence, can meaningfully move you ahead in your career. According to the Harvard Business Review, having a sponsor is linked with a statistical career benefit of at least 22% depending on the request (assignment versus pay raise) and the person requesting (male versus female).
While having a sponsor is important for everyone, it is particularly powerful for women looking to ascend the rungs of their company. A Center for Work-Life Policy study finds that one of the primary factors holding women back in the workplace “isn’t a male conspiracy but rather a surprising absence of advocacy from men and women in positions of power.” For this reason, particularly if you are a woman, make a point to foster a relationship with a sponsor in your organization to fill this seat in your board.
Mentors may or may not work in the same industry as you, but they will be able to give you specific advice as you navigate your career that sets you ahead of your competition. They can also be the people you vent to when things aren’t going your way.
That said, the best mentors won’t baby you if you’re feeling bad for yourself too often – they will know where to draw the line between quietly empathizing and when to say “enough is enough.” Mentors listen, encourage, and guide you through problem solving to continue advancing your career
Diversity of experience makes for a great personal board. As you can see, each of the five board members above will provide a different contribution. You want each person to know more than you about something, be better than you are at something, or offer a purely different point of view.
Your board of directors could include people you work with, people you aspire to be, or as Sarah Friar, CFO of Square, says, “a mentor from a previous life.” In an interview, Friar shared that one of her board directors has “seen me in different guises in my career,” which makes his advice and mentorship that much more insightful and interesting. Friar also has a potentially unexpected pick for her board: her kids! Friar comments, “I put my kids on here because I love the fact that they teach me to not be constrained in how I think about things.”
Engaging your personal board of directors intermittently over the course of the year, you will develop an invaluable resource that can support you as you navigate the twists and turns of your career. In honor of National Mentoring Month, we challenge you to sit down and map out who your current mentors are and whether you have gaps (if any) in your personal board. Addressing these will put you on track for success in 2017 and beyond.