Building a Network of Mentors.

Gone are the days when mentoring was strictly a formal, professional interaction. Today, mentoring can be informal and situational, and can reach well beyond career issues. Savvy professionals tap mentors who will help them develop skill sets, who will help them enhance professional presence and who will help them grow in many aspects of their lives.

Just as we seek many friendships and relationships in our personal lives, developing numerous mentoring relationships helps nurture us as professionals. I view this as building your Personal Board of Directors.

I remember a discussion I had with one of my mentees, Stacey, about how to design her journey and move forward in all aspects of her life. I introduced her to the concept of a Personal Board of Directors. From my perspective, a Personal Board of Directors should consist of individuals from all aspects of your life – aspects such as health, family, self, career, and spiritual… just like mentoring.

In fact, these directors are the people who know you the best and who will be completely honest with you as you move through this journey called ‘life’. These are people with whom you would share and discuss the ups, downs, changes, challenges and joys in life – people who truly understand you and your goals.

When building your own Personal Board of Directors, I recommend considering people that:

  • You respect.
  • Understand your trade and/or career requirements.
  • Share a belief system/code of ethics.
  • Have similar and different family dynamics.
  • Are capable of understanding your needs and desires.

Through this conversation, Stacey identified individuals whom she respected. You may wonder whether this really matters, but the truth is that, sometimes, the gift of candid feedback may be hard to accept. There are occasions when challenging advice may be given, and, if you respect the source of that guidance, it is far easier to accept. You also want individuals who will support you and root for your success. There is no place for jealousy on your Board of Directors. They are your cheerleaders, as well as your disciplinarians when needed.

Once you have identified a solid pool of candidates for your Board, I also advise looking inward to identify the reasons why you need your Board, such as your own:

  • Skills gaps.
  • Desire for innovation.
  • Need for deeper institutional knowledge.
  • Balance of mentors within and outside of your organization.

Stacey continued and made a list of individuals who understood her career field and interests. Next, she asked herself, “Do I know anyone who has travelled a road like mine?” Stacey thought about people who came from similar backgrounds, who had struggled and who had achieved success (as she defined it). I encouraged her to consider people who might not have exactly the same background so that she could gain a variety of perspectives. (Too much of any one background or perspective leaves no room for diversity of thought and solutions.)

Along those lines, I also encouraged her to consider members of the opposite sex. It is very important to have men and women on your Board of Directors. In Stacey’s case, a man’s perspective was helpful in understanding how male colleagues thought and operated in the same career field. This would become a great asset to her throughout her journey. When properly cultivated, your Personal Board of Directors can become a community that can really help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your priorities, hone your strengths, and identify solid paths to your best opportunities. What I mean by ‘properly cultivated’ is working with your directors in many different ways, and developing your own strategic plan for working with them.

Stacey continued to put her Board together and even added her minister to her Board of Directors, since one of her goals was to remain grounded in her faith. (Many people I’ve worked with find it important to include a source of spirituality. No matter how they define it, it is important on their Board.) Stacey wanted to maintain her foundation as she faced difficult challenges. One of the issues Stacey faced was being the go-to person for additional work, simply because she was single. Many of her colleagues were married and had families, and she was viewed as having fewer personal responsibilities. She wanted someone on her Board who could help her navigate this situation. We discussed the importance of her right to her personal time, regardless of how and with whom she spent it. Stacey is a high performer, yet she needed to make her boundaries at work clear.

Stacey also added someone in the next stage of their life and career, as she wanted to be prepared for upcoming changes and challenges by discussing these with someone not much older than her, but who had gone through this stage. I thought this was a really wise move. As Stacey put all of these names together, we discussed the importance of buy-in and honesty. I advised her to have a candid conversation with each of these individuals about why she was building her Personal Board of Directors, and specifically what she was looking for from her Board members, including:

  • Honesty.
  • Ideas and solutions for challenges being faced.
  • Recommendations on how to prepare for the next steps in her journey.
  • Someone to really listen and hear her needs and issues.
  • Willingness to commit to at least one 30-minute conversation each quarter, or as needed when timing is of the essence.

In addition, she had to let them know her level of commitment to this process by agreeing to:

  • Be open to feedback.
  • Follow through on solutions that were advised and report back on results.
  • Consider the next steps and come to the table with ideas in hand.
  • Plan the schedule of appointments for the conversations or meetings.
  • Provide any assistance needed – for she was a resource for them to count on as well.

A few weeks later, Stacey and I met to discuss her experience in forming her Board of Directors. Her experience had been very positive and the people whom she had approached were willing to participate and were very happy that she had asked them. She also indicated that they were especially pleased that she was making a commitment to the process and to them. Stacey was also a valuable resource and was eager for them to know that she viewed their relationship as reciprocal. I continue to check in with Stacey and, I must say, I am very pleased and happy for her. At my suggestion, she has been keeping a journal of lessons learned and has amazing results to share. This has become a valuable tool to refer to for ideas in the future.

When I asked her about how she felt about her Board of Directors, she responded, “I love the gifts that I get to open and use. I have also learned that I don’t have to keep all the gifts; I can return the ones that don’t fit and say, ‘Thanks, but this one is not for me.’ In other words, I respect all of the feedback I receive from my Board, but I can select the right advice for my journey.”