Find your Power Pushers

Sheila Murphy
April 23, 2024

The research is clear, people with ambitious and focused friends are more successful than those that don't. One of the ideal ways to leverage your friends is by having a personal board of directors that can provide honest feedback, career advice, and push you to make the power moves that will move you forward. They are people like Emmett in Legally Blonde, who supports Elle Woods as she is cross-examining her first witness.

Your board's members are invested in your career because they care about it and you. They will tell you what you need to hear—not what you want to hear, and push you to do more and go farther. They will notify you when it is time to leave a job, apply for a new position, and acquire new skills or behaviors. This type of ambition and encouragement significantly affects people's careers.

A Personal Board of Directors Is Less Biased With Deep Knowledge

We all bring our baggage when thinking about career decisions. We are often harsher on ourselves than others will be. We can also be blind to weaknesses and career signals that we are receiving.

Your board can help you decipher what is happening because it is different from your more extensive network. Your board knows you so deeply that they understand what rabbit holes you may be going down, such as whether you are ready for a new opportunity or focusing too much on negative feedback or an environment.

Your board can help you look at a decision or give advice. These advisors also know how you need to hear it. Your board members will also call out "bull" when appropriate. The beauty of such a board is that you know and trust them. So while their advice may hurt, you are more likely to accept it because you know the people care about you and your career.

For example, a client, "Mary," struggled within her organization and tried to reclaim the career path that she thought she should be on. Her board members told her that while she was fabulous, it was over at her organization as it was clear it was going in a different direction. Mary's board told her to end her unhappiness and frustration and that she should look for new opportunities. They understood that Mary had been with that organization for many years and change was difficult, but it was a must. Mary took the time to think about her dream job, embarked in a different direction, and found a job that paid her more—and more importantly, appreciated her more.

As a member of others' boards of directors, I have had honest conversations about how to think about feedback more neutrally, how to position themselves for success, and whether they needed a more significant focus on business development. On the receiving end, I have been told things perhaps I didn't want to hear, but I knew that it all came from a good place and made me and my career stronger.

A good member will tell you the hard truths and help you handle that feedback. Simply put, you need a personal board of directors to get advice from trusted advisors.

Who should be on your board?

Some people believe that you should have formal conversations asking someone to be on your board. I don't think that is necessary. You just know who they are and that you can go to them when you need to.

In my view, the most critical trait of someone on your board is that they know you well, and you trust them to give straight feedback—most likely because they have in the past. Sugar-coated, wishy-washy advice will not move you forward and may hurt you in the long run.  

You must trust that this person has your best interests at heart and will tell you the truth no matter how difficult. Yes-people should not be on your board. Yes-people will make you feel better but will not give you the information you need. It would help if you also respect the individuals and their advice. I am in awe of how they process information and advice. I always have ideas to think about and am grateful for their willingness to share their thoughts and expertise. When I finish speaking to one of my members, I never leave empty-handed. You may trust someone, but if you don't trust their instincts or advice, they will not help you and should not be on your board.

Finally, at least one member must deeply understand your organization and industry. It is best if you have someone who understands your situation's politics. Often, the best people here are former colleagues. Having someone not in your organization is helpful to give you a view of how other organizations work and whether you have drunk too much Kool-Aid.

How should your board work?

There are different ways boards work. It does not matter which you choose, as long as it works for you and you get and take advantage of the feedback.

One friend of mine has a quarterly dinner with her board where they all talk about their careers and ask for feedback over good food and wine. While I like the structure and giving back of that format, the board does not need to be that formal, and the members may not even know each other.

While I often speak to my members over a meal or a drink, I also reach out over email, phone, and text. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was a GIF of Cher in Moonlight telling me to "get over it." Guess what I did?

The key is to find out what works for you and your members—not the format. The important thing is to have a personal board of directors that you trust, reach out to, and heed. If you do this, you will be moving forward in your career.


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