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The Four People You Need on Your Personal Board of Advisors

Surround yourself with the people who will help you navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities.

Photo by Christina Morillo

I remember sitting in the small conference room and being shocked by the words that had just come out of my mouth.  I had yelled at my boss.  My heart was pounding out of my chest.  A few months prior to this moment I had graduated from one of the best business schools in the world. How did I go from feeling on top of the world and ready to take on this new role to feeling like things were falling apart? 

Looking back at that time, it’s pretty obvious why I was struggling.  I was new to my role and to the company.  Naturally, I had no idea what I was doing.  The business that I was responsible for managing was not performing to expectations.  Since I didn’t have a crystal ball, I couldn’t predict exactly when the bleeding would end.  I was also dealing with a tricky political situation.  My boss and I didn’t have a strong relationship.  She didn’t like the story I was telling about why our business wasn’t making the numbers, because, to be frank, it made her look bad.  All of these factors were compounding on one another and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was failing.  I now try to embrace failure, but at the time it felt pretty horrible.    

The circumstances certainly didn’t make it easy, but what made it worse was that I chose to struggle alone.  Instead of reaching out to people for help and support, I put my head down and worked my tail off.  I was the first person in the office at 6am and worked late nights.  Hard work had been the answer to getting good grades, to excelling at my first job and to getting into the business school of my dreams. Shouldn’t it work here too? It didn’t. It actually made things worse.  I was too in my head to think clearly.  Many of the challenges I was facing could not be solved by hard work because they required navigating corporate politics and influencing people – skills I had not yet mastered. 

Not long after that incident with my boss, I started to open up.  Keeping my head down and relying solely on my own ability to persevere was a pretty miserable way to handle big problems. I took a new approach and asked for help. I reached out to people within the company that I had relationships with, to my dad who had spent 30 years in corporate America, and to peers that I trusted.  I learned so much from those conversations. I gained critical internal support within the company to help me tell my story and ensure this experience didn’t damage my reputation. 

After that experience, I had a revelation.  Successful people don’t do it alone.  They have advisors – in fact they have boards of advisors.  They seek help and guidance.  No one gives you extra points for doing it all yourself and in all likelihood you actually hurt yourself by trying to go it alone. I did.  Since then, I have been intentional about creating a personal board of advisors.  This board is a select group of people that I go to for advice on challenges, opportunities and decisions.  Like any great team, there are different roles that need to be played.  I have broken it down to the four essential people everyone should have on their personal board of advisors:

The Truth Teller

This is the friend or advisor who tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.  My business partner, Beth, does this for me all the time.  Recently, I was talking about some client work that I wasn’t enjoying.  She let me vent, but then she turned to me and said “so do something about it, you are in control”.  It would be easier to just sit there and complain, but she didn’t let me get off at easy.  She told me that if I wanted to live a fulfilling and happy life – I had to take the reins and craft the life I wanted.  She loves me so much she pushes me to be great.  I am so thankful for her.

The Gray Hair

Let me start by saying the gray hair doesn’t actually have to have gray hair to qualify, but they should have some years under their belt.  There are some things that are best learned through experience and perspective is often richer over time.  Having someone on your board that can give you some of that hard earned wisdom and put your situation in perspective is crucial.  For me, my gray hair is my Dad (and despite what his driver’s license says, he does indeed have gray hair).  He leverages his decades of work and life experience to help me unpack the lessons in my life.  He also helps me weigh the pros and cons of big decisions that I am navigating.    He can’t make decisions for me and my experience is different from his, but he provides valuable insight and strengthens my decision-making process.

The Cheerleader

We don’t celebrate ourselves and our accomplishments enough.  We finish one thing and then it’s off to the next without stopping to appreciate the big milestones and goals we just crushed.  The cheerleader is the person in your life who helps you see the incredible things you bring to the world.  They are there to encourage you to keep going when you are intimated by the inevitable challenges ahead.  They are undeniably, maybe even irrationally, cheering for you. The best manager I have ever had, Laura Horton, was an amazing cheerleader for me.  She believed in my abilities and even better, she gave me opportunities where I could let my strengths shine.   I walked away from every conversation with her with my head held a little higher and feeling like I could take on the world. 

The Big Sister / Big Brother

The last board member, is a few years ahead of you.  They have similar experiences and can identify with the joy and struggles that come along with them.  Similar to the gray hair, they have some perspective that they can share, but they are also close enough to what you are going through that they can give really amazing practical advice.  They let you know that you aren’t alone and that what you are going through is normal.  When I became a Mom, I leaned on my friends who had children who were 6-12 months older than mine.  When my daughter went through different phases, they gave me their tried and true tips and helped me understand that this was just a phase – that this too shall pass.  They answered my texts, wiped away my tears and helped me feel like I could do this Mom thing.  Whatever phase of life you are navigating, professionally or personally, seek out theses people.  They are SO much better than a google search and they can help you be more successful.

I hope all of you have these people in your life already.  If you do, that’s great! Leverage them and schedule regular touchpoints to get their guidance and advice.  If you don’t, no problem.   Now you can be intentional about seeking people out and starting to build your personal board of advisors. The great news is that you never have to go it alone again.  By surrounding yourself with great people, you can enrich and enhance your life and feel more confident in going after your big audacious dreams. Go for it!

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