How to Appoint Your Own Personal Board of Directors
In a world where women account for less than a third of key management positions, female leaders need to take control of own careers and success more than ever. At current rates of growth, it will take women 65 years to make up just 40% of executive leadership positions in the pipeline to CEO. If our boards, businesses and organisations are to have greater representation of women in leadership, we must all play a part to ensure women are seen, heard, and recognised as the influential leaders they are.
So, what can you do to make this happen? You can start by surrounding yourself with others who will mentor and guide you on the pitfalls to avoid in your career, coach you into becoming the best version of yourself, champion and encourage you into new opportunities, and sponsor your advancement in key roles and positions. Yep, you need your own Personal Board of Directors – or what I like to call your Ambition Support Network.
WHY YOU ALSO NEED WOMEN ON YOUR PERSONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS
While it might be easy to assume that since men hold more than 80% of leadership roles, you should have more men on your Board of Directors, recent research indicates otherwise. In fact, research shows that more than 75% of women in top positions have a strong female support network. Women are also more likely to expect higher positions when their network has a large number of women, aiming for roles 2.5 times in greater seniority and pay than women in male-dominated networks.
The fact is, when women are surrounded by women, they act as each other’s personal cheer squad. Just think of all those times your colleagues or friends celebrated an achievement, encouraged you to apply for an opportunity you were unsure of, or gave you advice on a difficult predicament. Your Ambition Support Network does all this and more.
A Personal Board of Directors is especially crucial during times of stress. When women interact together, they release oxytocin, which helps calm stress levels. The initial hormone release when stress is present causes women to reach out to other women – a phenomenon known as the ‘tend and befriend’. It’s a nice
perk of nature that such interactions then lower stress levels, especially when women can band together to discuss workplace issues and stressors.
The other reason that women need a Personal Board of Directors is visibility. In recent research, most senior female leaders acknowledge that visibility is the most important factor to securing leadership roles. Yet women are often the ones who get lost in lower level positions, taking on ‘busy work’ and opting out of opportunities that could lead to promotion.
An Ambition Support Network is one step in many to the road of visibility. Having people on your side who empower you to own your own awesome, introduce and champion you to their own network, and recommend and sponsor you into new opportunities will all do wonders for your visibility and career
Your Board of Directors will take on many responsibilities, but at their core they should be a combination of:
- Cheerleading – celebrating your wins, and supporting you when times are tough
- Encouraging – supporting you to take on new opportunities and apply for higher positions
- Listening – lending an ear when you need to debrief or vent
- Advising – offering wisdom on how to avoid pitfalls and reach your goals
- Challenging – asking questions to challenge your assumptions and limiting beliefs
- Advocating – shouting your praises from the rooftops and going in to bat for you
- Sponsoring – opening doors, and creating opportunities
WHO DO YOU NEED ON YOUR PERSONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS?
Your Board of Directors should be made up of a variety of people each with different skill sets, roles, and networks to you. Your first instinct is probably to grab those already within your circle whom you get along with and know well. This is a great start – those who know you and your work, and are already friends with you, are often your strongest source of encouragement and the confidence boosting energy you need.
However, if you truly want to stand out as a leader, you need to be strategic in who will be on your Board of Directors. Yes, some of those close colleagues may make the cut – but you’ll need people outside of your immediate circle of influence if you really want to be visible, influential and create a legacy. There are four categories of people that you should appoint to your board to truly help you succeed.
The Mentor: Mentors are people who have been there before and are ready to offer advice and guidance based on their own experience. They might be in the role you aspire to, have previous experience in your or a similar role, or could even be your manager or boss. Their main role is to help you steer clear of any pitfalls and offer advice on what you can do to achieve your goals.
The Coach: Coaches are similar to a mentor, with one key difference – they haven’t necessarily been in your shoes. Instead of bringing their own experience to the table, they know how to ask the right questions to help you become a better version of yourself. Coaches may at times make you feel vulnerable or defensive – but their questions and knowing comments will lead you into immeasurable growth.
The Champion: Champions know your strengths, achievements, and desires, encouraging you into new opportunities and experiences and are well placed in industry or the organisation to champion you into higher roles or plum assignments or even to keep you out of trouble. One woman I know, Julie, was fortunate enough to have her champion in a senior level meeting when an opportunity came up that her champion knew she would be interested in. Unfortunately, Julie’s boss immediately shut the conversation down. Why? Because it was a male dominated industry and Julie was too valuable in the position she had – cleaning up after others. Julie’s champion went into bat for Julie, politely challenge the boss’s perspective, and then went through back channels to tell Julie about the opportunity, encouraging her to apply. Not only did Julie apply, but she landed the position as well – all thanks to someone who knew how good she would be for the role, and how much she would enjoy it.
The Sponsor: Similarly to champions, sponsors know everything that you can bring to the table, and more. Importantly, they are also well placed in your organisation and/or industry, are well connected and influential, they have credibility in their own right and they have power and clout to make things happen. They use your unique value proposition to sell you and your expertise to others, recommending you for opportunities and promotions as they arise. Sponsors are the first person to go in to bat for you to the CEO with no questions asked, and will even create opportunities for you where they are able.
Sometimes individual people on your Board might take on more than one role. Other times they’ll have a specific ‘board position’. However your Personal Board works, make sure that each role is covered and that all your needs and expectations are being met. Yes, just like a traditional Board of Directors, your Personal Support Network requires good governance.
So, how do you ensure your Board is set up for success?
MAKING IT HAPPEN – 5 TOP TIPS FOR APPOINTING YOUR BOARD
If you want your Personal Board of Directors to do great things for you, you’ll need to put in the work choosing,(unofficially) appointing, and regularly checking in with your Board Members. This isn’t a casual friendship group – it’s a strategic approach to taking charge of your career and your leadership legacy.
Sometimes it can be a case of trial and error to see who fits your needs in your personal network. Here are my top tips to get you started.
1. Look for people inside and outside your current network
A good Personal Board of Directors will include people with different roles, seniority, and from different organisations. It’s a good idea to include some members from your current organisation, but you’ll also want to broaden your network beyond your current position. It’s also OK if not all your members know each other – in fact, this is usually better! Diversity in your network means diversity in advice, feedback, and opportunities.
2. Be ready to talk about yourself with credibility
If you’re approaching someone to champion you and your work, they need to know what you bring to the table. Brush up your CV, learn to talk about yourself and your achievements, and back up your accomplishments with credible evidence of your results. A Sponsor or Champion might also like to know what others say about you – so put them in touch with a boss or colleague who speaks highly of you, or prepare some testimonials for them to review.
3. Communicate your expectations
If you’ve ever tried to vent to someone, with the sole desire to get everything off your chest, only for them to offer advice or regale you with their own tale of woe, you’ll know how frustrating it can be when your expectations aren’t met. Equally as frustrating is giving someone advice again and again only for it to fall on deaf ears.
If you want your Board of Directors to work, communication is key. Be clear what it is you want from each person, and how they can work with you to achieve that. If it’s someone who will mentor you, make sure they know you welcome feedback and constructive criticism – and that you’re ready to hear it. If it’s a peer to mutually vent frustrations to, let them know you’d love to bounce ideas back and forth, but aren’t necessarily looking to take on advice.
4. Make sure the relationship isn’t one-sided
The right Board members will also want to know what they get out of the relationship. Will you reciprocate celebrating their achievements and championing them to others? Is there an opportunity you can float their way, or some other assistance you can offer? Not everyone will expect something in return, but thinking of ways you can support your network, just as they support you, is a good way to show gratitude.
Make sure you also thank your Board Members when they’ve helped you out. This could be taking them out to celebrate a win, buying the next round of coffee in a mentoring session, or sending a thank you gift at the end of the year.
5. You don’t need to all catch up together or all be appointed at the same time
While we call this a Board of Directors, this Board doesn’t have to meet monthly or even meet together at all. There is no formal Board strategy day, unless you wish it and then make it happen, and there is no AGM or Board election process. They tend to meet individually with you alone.
Your Board is invited by you, appointed by you and each arrangement might be different. A Coach or Mentor perhaps meet more frequently and for longer i.e. 60 mins monthly, and a Champion or Sponsor might only meet with you quarterly and perhaps even for just 30 mins depending on their own schedule. But the frequency and duration is totally up to you and your individual Board member. Don’t let my limiting beliefs get in the way of your career success.
Also consider right for just now appointees. It might be that you identify someone who you want to advise you in a particular skill, such as chairing a meeting, making a killer point at the end of a meeting, influencing without authority. If that’s the case it might be that you meet once or twice over a period of time, and then once that skill is learned or acquired you don’t need to meet any more.
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