Build your own personal advisory board
In a lot of people’s minds, entrepreneurs and innovators often stand out as super-individuals; ones who had a vision and just made it happen all on their own, through sheer determination and force of spirit. It’s easy to get caught up in that mindset and feel prematurely discouraged when your own ideas for a business don’t come together easily on the first try (or the second, or the third). Maybe you’re just not as capable. Maybe you just weren’t meant to be a super-person.
But the real fact of the matter is that no one does it alone. Every entrepreneur and innovator needs a team of advisers and supporters to keep them going when hard times and struggles come up. And even before those problems arise, the best of us thrive when we have supporters who can offer new ideas, ask good questions, and steer us towards the very best career we can create.
Even if you’re not launching your own product or business, one of the most powerful tools in your career arsenal is what I call your “personal advisory board”, a group of trusted individuals to whom you can bring your ideas, problems, and questions about your career.
These folks are the backstage workers who make your career success a possibility, and without them you would be farther behind and less successful. Building your personal advisory board takes time, and requires attention to several different roles that need to be filled and maintained throughout your life. But once you’ve assembled them, this dream team can be the key to cultivating your own success as you build and improve your career.
Having mentors is one of the biggest tools for achieving success in your career. It’s a simple fact that having someone to talk to who’s a little ahead of you in your field or someone whose career path you admire is a huge resource for your own growth. A good mentor is someone who you can ask questions about everything from how they learned a particular skill, to how they built their successful career, to how they maintain their work-life balance.
Think of your mentor like Obi-wan from Star Wars; they have the force, and they want to help you get it too. They can guide you because they have the experience you want already under their belt, and it’s up to you to keep asking them questions and draw their wisdom to you. They’ll challenge you and push you to be better, and you’ll be a better entrepreneur/engineer/executive for it.
Someone who’s been there before
Whether you want to be a CTO or an entrepreneur, there are plenty of people who have been in your shoes before.
Someone who’s done it before can help you prepare for the little things they wish they’d known. You can get plenty of big-picture advice from books, but a real person can tell you stories about their own pitfalls and struggles, and offer you advice on how to prepare and avoid those problems when you encounter them. What did they wish they’d known before they started? What’s the biggest thing that surprised them?
They can also give you valuable insight into their own successes too. They might encourage you to try something you wouldn’t have thought of, or something you might have thought too risky to try without outside influence. Get comfortable with the idea that you don’t know it all, and take advice from people you respect who’ve been there.
The one who says “no” to everything
Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Someone who says “no” to literally all of your ideas isn’t very helpful, but you do need someone who is able to look at things with a critical eye all the time, and who won’t sugarcoat the truth when you need to hear it.
Starting a business or pursuing a promotion are big undertakings, with plenty of opportunity for error. Having an advisor who can help you take an objective look at your plans will be invaluable when it comes time to cut bad ideas out. The more open you are to receiving negative feedback and knowing how to handle it when you get it, the more successful you will be.
Remember, you don’t always have to do what they say, but it’s important to hear what you can improve if you really want to make an impact.
The one who says “yes” to everything
You need a cheerleader. Having people who will break things down and analyze the best parts are, of course, key, but so is having someone who just lets you know you’re doing a great job! This is the person who tells you “you can do it” every chance they get, and always thinks your progress is impressive.
Why is this person an important member of your advisory board? Because work is hard. Especially if you’re starting something new or challenging or anything where you’re bound to hit a few bumps in the road. Find someone who always believes in you or who can always put a positive spin on something. It will help you see the silver lining in your failures so you can persevere.
Your like-minded peers
I have lots of friends who – even though we might not be in identical fields – have similar ambitions and career goals to my own, and we work together to support each other in leveling up our careers. We’ll chat on the phone and have one-on-ones or group meetings where we go over our projects and offer each other advice, feedback, and support.
It’s helpful to consult friends from other fields who can give you insight into things you might not have considered. For example, talking to people who specialize in marketing and finance helps me supplement my own knowledge in engineering and become a more well-rounded person. It’s great to work with people who are at your same level in their careers because they’re more likely to understand where you’re coming from and you can build a long-lasting relationship with them that will benefit you both as you advance.
If you offer your support to others, they’re more likely to come back and help you in return. Look for peers and friends you can offer your support to, and you’ll start to construct the foundation of many mutually beneficial partnerships.
Your friend outside the business world
As important as everyone who’s been there and has business expertise to offer is, you can’t forget about your life outside your career. I love my work and I love spending lots of time on it, but I also make spending time with friends and my husband a priority too.
Not only is this good for your mental health (we all need a break from work-talk every once in a while) but people who aren’t involved in the daily ins and outs of your career can give you long-range perspective from their position outside. They’ll see opportunities and details you simple missed by being so close to it, and they’ll remind you that the best things in life don’t *all* happen at the office.
The one who doesn’t know they’re an advisor (yet)
Don’t forget, you can have mentors who don’t know you. If there’s someone you admire but who you can’t build a mentor or advisor relationship with (because of distance, their busy schedule, etc.) you don’t have to give up on them. If they maintain an active blog, newsletter, Twitter feed, or other regular public communication, don’t shy away from following along. It’s totally allowed (perhaps even encouraged 😉 ).
Plus, you might even develop a relationship by becoming an active participant in that person’s space. If you leave insightful comments and engage with their content regularly, they might just surprise you by taking an interest in your pursuits too.
I have lots of goals with regards to the people I’d like to meet, and those connections can only happen when you reach out.
The most important thing about your personal advisory board is that it exists at all. We cannot be successful all by ourselves, and it is the rare person who makes a huge impact without the help of others. Take time to consider the people you bring in, and then take those relationships seriously. They’ll repay you in ways you can’t possibly expect.
So take a moment make a list. What areas are missing and who could potentially fill them? Next up figure out a strategy to meet them, add value to them, and hopefully enlist them as a companion on your adventure.