Whose Board of Directors Are You On?

There are five types of people that everyone needs to have on their personal board of directors.

• The Connector who makes introductions and helps you to grow your network.

• The Informational Powerhouse who keeps you current on the buzz in your organization and in the broader business environment.

• The Influencer who helps you get things done in areas outside of your scope of influence.

• The Mentor who supports your growth and development by providing feedback and guidance.

• The Sponsor who pulls strings to accelerate your career by leveraging their circle of influence.

It’s a good idea to have at least one of each type of board member in your network. Once you’ve selected them, check in on a regular basis. With your personal board of directors in place, think about how you can give back to others.

Let’s say you want to help others develop in their careers, but like most busy professionals, are short on time to invest in mentoring a lot of people. Consider this alternate model: “Ask yourself: ‘Whose personal board of directors am I on?’” says Nehal Mehta, Director of Global Partner Sales with Veritas Technologies LLC in Mountain View, California.

“Being on a personal board of directors is an opportunity to utilize and grow skills that are vital to your own career and growth,” adds Mehta. “It will help you grow as a leader and manager. People will want to work for you. It is also a purposeful way to give back.” 

Unlike a role on a corporate board of directors, where members are recruited to perform activities that are highly regulated, your position on someone’s personal board of directors doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement. You can start immediately by spotting someone with talent who has the potential to grow. Dive in and assist them as a connector, informational powerhouse, influencer, mentor, or sponsor. 

Play to Your Strengths

To truly add value to those individuals and avoid spreading yourself too thin, Mehta recommends playing to your strengths. 

“Are people reaching out to you as a connector, informational powerhouse, influencer, mentor, or sponsor?” Mehta asks. She recommends doing a self-assessment of your strengths, and considering which of five roles you already play. While there certainly are benefits to playing all five roles, it is more likely that there are a couple that energize you and align with and your strengths and interests.

When it comes to being a mentor, Mehta sets boundaries in this role by mentoring two people per year. But she has a clever trick for making sure her impact reaches beyond her two mentees. “One criteria that I insist on before I take someone on as a mentee is that the mentee actively mentor two other people.” In Mehta’s experience, this encourages her mentees to take ownership and make the most of every mentoring conversation. “Our mentoring sessions are engaging and productive, and we always look forward to seeing each other the next time,” she says.

Mehta continues, “I find that most often I am a connector. I proactively offer to make introductions by thinking outside the box and leveraging even my weak connections.”

For example, when Mehta mentored the two young female co-founders of a startup, she utilized her Facebook and Twitter connections to broadcast and amplify stories about their progress. And once a year, she hosts a of gathering of dynamic, interesting women for “high tea” at her home, inviting long-time members of her network to mix with others she had recently met. “It’s a way to re-connect with people who have been in my network for some time, and get better acquainted with newer ones,” Mehta says. It is a remarkably effective way to facilitate connections. One attendee, an author, picked up a speaking engagement after meeting a conference organizer at last year’s event.

Having built, grown, and led organizations with 150+ engineers, Mehta often finds herself gravitating toward the role of sponsor, advocating for people on her team and in her larger business group. “Throughout my career, I have been frequently contacted to advocate for people seeking internal job opportunities and ‘back-door references’ for external opportunities. I have also proactively influenced getting people placed on high-visibility projects,” she says.

So what’s the key to effective sponsorship? “Before recommending someone for an opportunity or project, I connect ahead of time with my peers to gain their buy-in.” Laying the groundwork before making a recommendation makes a big difference, says Mehta.

Getting Started

So consider which of the five roles you could fill on someone else’s personal board of directors. Are you best suited to being a connector, informational powerhouse, influencer, mentor, or sponsor?

Remember, you don’t need to mentor everyone who asks. If you’re better suited to fulfill another role, do it. And don’t feel guilty about not personally mentoring every person you believe in and want to support, especially if you have other ways to add value to their career. Choose the roles that align with your talents, and allow you to make the biggest impact.

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Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.net and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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