Most large companies have a corporate advisory board – a body that provides non-binding strategic counsel and unbiased insights into current direction and future opportunities. It has occurred to me – thanks to a very positive personal experience – that every professional could benefit from having a similar informal close network: a “personal advisory board”.
We all have moments where we question our current career direction, perhaps feel a little frustrated at a lack of progress, or just need some informal support.
The key phrase here is “non-binding”. You can follow the advice or ignore it. An effective confidante won’t take offence if you choose not to follow their advice – so long as you show your appreciation for their interest and concern.
How should you go about selecting the best team of advisors? In part, this depends on your personality as well as your profession. People who are talented but perhaps lack self-confidence or motivation need the counsel of someone who can stiffen backbones and build them up. By contrast those who have their heads in the clouds need someone who can bring them back to reality. However, I would recommend that everyone interested in driving their career forward should have at least one friend and confidante who falls into one of the following categories:
Someone who can weigh up the pros and cons of any decision coolly, and deliver a judgment on its material merits. This could, for example, be a CFO or tax accountant. For example, you might be presented with a complex decision with many pros and cons and want to see the clear pros and cons!
You also need, from time to time, someone who can remind you that happiness is more important than money. That you need time in life to stop and smell the roses. This advisor could even be a poet or an artist (either professionally or in their spare time) – but what matters most is that they should be broad minded, empathetic and supportive.
Sometimes we need a bit of “tough love” to get us out of a rut. The tough guy isn’t necessarily a brute but rather someone who can remind you that you have special talents and can encourage you to use those talents to the full, reaching out to greater things. I’ve found that managers who have a background in the military or as sports coaches can often apply just the right amount of motivational pressure.
Many people who are great when it comes to practical or technical skills have trouble winning friends and influencing people at work. A good soft skills coach will draw out your natural personality and make you feel good about yourself. And it happens without you even noticing. You will find such empathetic people in many walks of life; what’s important is that they should be a close friend as well as a confidante. If you are lucky in your choice of life partner, look no further!
Perhaps the most obvious candidate for a place on your Personal Advisory Board is someone who knows your business or your professional discipline inside out and can offer an opinion on your next move – or the one beyond. Typically you should look for someone who is five to ten years ahead of you in terms of career development.
Ideally all of these people will also be interested in your advice, too. At any rate, they will appreciate it if their concern in you is reciprocated.
Can you think of people in your circle who are already de facto members of your advisory board? How have they helped in the past? How might they help you in the future? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.