How to build your personal board of directors

Personal board of directors

In the early days of Powrsuit, we asked hundreds of successful women how they made it to the top. Universally, they pointed to three essential tools: tailored learning, advice and a supportive peer group.

While learning can be delivered in various ways (including Powrsuit’s newsletter, conferences, courses, books and podcasts), the other two are all about relationships. Despite building strong personal bonds, women have shallower professional networks. The culprits? A bigger household load, microaggression in the workplace, societal norms and negative self-talk. As a result, we miss out on valuable feedback and opportunities that help us better navigate our careers.👎

Many of us already have a cheerleading squad – those friends who back us to move mountains. But. We also need people who encourage us to push that mountain harder or hold us accountable when we push too hard. Those that help us develop the problem-solving skills to shrink the mountain instead of scaling Everest alone (ok, enough with the mountain analogy!).

Throughout our careers, we should curate specific positions to sit on ‘the board of you’. Depending on your career stage, budget and time constraints, start with a mix that works for you. Unlike a company board of directors, your team doesn’t have to meet together (and you don’t have to do what they say). You’re in control. 

Here’s your guide to the different types of advisors you might consider adding to yours.

Mentor

Someone a couple of steps ahead in their career has mastered a particular skill or mindset and can act as a sounding board and advice giver. 

Mentors can come in all shapes, from official workplace programmes to informal one-off coffees. Some prefer a formal ongoing relationship with one mentor; others like to keep things casual and have differing perspectives. The choice is yours.

Often mentors are emotionally invested in your success, which means they tend to be unpaid. Notice yourself regularly going to someone for advice or an empathetic ear? They’re probably an unofficial mentor, and it’s ok to leave it at that if that works for both of you! If you want to double down on the relationship, ask if they’d be open to meeting more regularly. You might go for walks, drinks, or have a recurring video call.

Good forBe aware of
– Sessions to work through specific challenges
– Gaining a fresh perspective
– Soliciting feedback to shortcut development
– Benefiting from the lessons learned by those who’ve gone before you
– Mentors who are too busy advising to listen to what you really need
– Thinking their way is the only way – you can (and should) forge your own path!
– Creating win-win outcomes 

Sponsor

A senior person in your organisation who advocates for you. They open doors that would otherwise be inaccessible (key projects, roles or promotions, knowledge-sharing sessions).

Generally, a top-down relationship; sponsorship programmes require senior leaders to strengthen leadership pipelines through dedicated support and advocacy. Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many informal sponsorship relationships in our time, often based on mirrotocracy.

Asking someone to be your sponsor doesn’t always lead to an optimal outcome. Senior leaders are busy. If they don’t know you well, they may not prioritise vouching for someone they might classify as a risk to their reputation. What will work is identifying a leader you admire and adding value to their work lives. No, we don’t mean bringing them coffee! Think about sharing your valuable subject matter expertise or putting your hand up for a strategically important piece of work.

Relationship building is key when asking someone to use their personal capital. Thankfully, we’re relational! Along with making your strategic value visible to leaders, be considered (aka strategic) when building camaraderie with leaders you admire. Learn about their lives outside of work. If they have pictures of their family on their desk, ask about them! Or, if you’re on a video call and one of their kids walks in the room, use that chance to learn more about their life. Find out their interests outside of work to create ‘mutuality’.

Advocacy can come in many forms; once you’ve established a workplace relationship, you could start by requesting a one-off meeting and seeking their advice on filling any developmental gaps that might be blocking your progress toward your goals.

Good forBe aware of
– A career champion who advocates for you at senior levels
– Introducing you to opportunities you might not have known about
– Access to high-profile assignments and influential people
– Be mindful of strategic yeses! You won’t get a sponsor by taking on workplace admin
– Becoming overly reliant on a sponsor; you can be proactive too

Coach

Just like a sports coach, professional and leadership coaches help you build the tools required to succeed on your terms. Usually, over 3-6 sessions, they work with you to alter self-limiting thinking patterns and unblock specific challenges. It could be anything from getting unstuck in your career to learning how to navigate a problematic workplace relationship.

Because this is a professional field, coaches usually charge between $200-$500/hour – often more than a therapist! We’re yet to find many group coaching options either (but watch this space!).

Unfortunately, there’s no directory or rating system for coaches, so the best way to find the right coach for you is through word of mouth or we’re building a handy list, so drop us a line at hello@powrsuit.com.

Good forBe aware of
– Developing your personal toolkit to overcome any issue or challenge
– Unbiased expertise on self-development
– Accountability so you take action!
– Cost: it might be worth asking for a professional development budget
– Fit: not every coach will work for every person

Peer group

A group of 5-8 women you join or bring together to support one another in your career/stage of life – think of it as a mother’s group without the kid chatter. 😉 

Successful peer groups meet regularly for decades and can be a potent tool for working through challenges and being accountable for development. For them to work, everyone has to give as well as receive. 

Generally, you’ll want to include people across multiple organisations because you need to be comfortable getting into the nitty gritty of any issues without fear of fallout in the workplace.

Good forBe aware of
– Fostering support and accountability
– Developing deeper friendships
– Expanding your network
– Victim mentality: while it’s great to vent,
a peer group should be about positive growth,
not endless complaining

30 second action:

invite a couple of friends out for a walk, wine/tea or dinner. Ask each of them to bring their biggest current career challenge.

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