Do you have a professional board of directors?

Last month we discussed creating your career road map. One action that can be beneficial to achieving your career goals is to create a professional board of directors.  Companies utilize a board of directors for oversight, advice and governance and so should you. And like a company, your board should be made up of both internal and external advisors with a variety of backgrounds and skillsets. No one advisor can meet all of your development needs, diversifying allows you to gain many perspectives.

Where do you begin? First, if you haven’t done so already take an inventory of your strengths and opportunities. It is just as important to create a plan to continue to grow your strengths as it is to improve your opportunities. By determining your areas of focus, you can identify individuals that can help you.  Review your professional network, both within your organization and external to identify those that you may want to contact.

Once you have an identified an individual, craft a brief email; it can be as simple as:

“I am looking for some advice on how to improve my networking skills, and have admired your ability to connect with people at professional events. If you would be open to sharing a few tips with me, please respond with a few dates/times that work and I will follow up with a calendar invitation. Thanks, in advance for your help.”

Be sure to follow up promptly with a calendar invitation once they respond, meetings can be in person, via phone or virtually via Skype or Face Time. Be prepared for the meeting: an example or two of when things didn’t go as you had hoped and a few specific questions will get the conversation started.  Schedule a follow up to debrief on how you put their advice into practice and the results.

Keep your board small, 3 – 4 directors at any one time is plenty. Don’t be afraid to change directors as your needs change.  You might consider keeping a consistent director such as a mentor, who can also help you find new directors.

A word about mentors, sponsors and your board. Mentors can be an internal or external to your organization, their primary focus is coaching and developing.  You share your strengths and weaknesses and they help you look for ways to improve.  A mentor talks with you and acts as your sounding board. Mentors often are found within your discipline or industry and are often a long- term relationship. A sponsor comes from within your company and their primary focus is championing and representing you to others when you are not in the room.  They are an advocate and talk about you in a positive and proactive way. The significance of a sponsor is their ability to be an influencer and decision maker in your career advancement.  They have the power and the authority to elevate you to the next levels.

Sponsors and mentors are both important to your career growth and should have a “seat” on your board.

And finally, in the spirit of “lifting as you climb” be sure to look for opportunities to serve as a mentor or sponsor in your role.