Forget Mentoring: Build a Board of Directors

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You are the CEO of You – in charge of your life and your priorities. Like all CEOs, you want to
build a board of directors to give you valuable insights and advice to help you achieve your
goals. A strong board allows you to diversify and expand your network and will surround you
with a team committed to your success.

Who Should Be on My Board?
You want to be intentional about who sits on your board of directors. This is different than
friends or confidants. They play an important role in supporting you as fans. Your board of
directors should be carefully selected based on the skillsets they have and their ability to help
you achieve your goals. Be intentional about having diversity in your board- you want people
with different experiences, backgrounds, and opinions to help guide you. Your board can and
should have people at multiple levels of the organization. Someone with the skills you need
may less senior than you, a peer, or a leader. I recommend filling most of the seats internally-
that allows you to have internal advocates to speak up for you when you are not in the room.
But there is also value in having at least one seat held by someone with complete objectivity
outside of your organization who will bring a different perspective forward.

What are the Seats I Need on My Board?
The LinkedIn Learning training What a secret circle of mentors can do for you (linkedin.com) recommends the following roles. I think they are best positioned not as mentors but as key seats on your board of directors:

  • Compass Holder: Someone who helps you set your direction. Someone you can learn from the path they have paved.
  • Yoda: Someone who can help you with your blind spots. Someone with skills and strengths that compliment yours.
  • Co Pilot: Someone you can learn with collaboratively. A thought partner to bounce ideas off.
  • Connector: Someone who is well connected and can help you expand your network.
  • Optimizer: Someone to help you with your work life balance.  Someone that can help you with prioritizing.
  • Challenger: Someone who will ask you hard questions and push you to be better.

How Do I Create My Board? 

Start with a list of names. Who are the first people that come to mind when you read the list of key seats for your board? What is it you want them to help you with? The clearer you are the more helpful they can be. For example, if you are looking for someone to help you with work life balance, define what that mean to you. What will success look like? What have you tried and what have you learned? 

Reach out to the individual and ask if you can meet with them. Tell them you’ve noticed their strength in work life balance and ask if they would be willing to help you with your goal. There is no rule about how frequently you should meet. What’s more important is agreeing to a schedule of check ins to drive your accountability and connection. 

You should also talk about the best way to communicate with each other between meetings Are texts ok? Do they prefer emails sent to them at work or at home? Do they like calls during their drive time or hate it? Again, no rules here- just aligning on what works for each of you.

Remember, you are the CEO of You. No one is more invested in your success than you. Finding a board of directors willing to share their superpowers will help you power your goals and your success.

Constant Culture During Consistent Change

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2021 has created rapid changes in our workplaces and our workforce. The pace of change has often left leaders feeling like they are in the rapids of consistent change while trying to steer a consistent culture. In Peter Vail’s book, Managing as Performance Art, he uses white water rafting as an analogy to talk about the challenge of navigating uncertainty and business turbulence. As HR professionals, this is a huge opportunity for us to help leaders create a realistic course, create a clear vision, and create strong rowers so we can reach our business goals.

Creating a Realistic Course

Vail says “Most managers are taught to think of themselves as paddling their canoes on calm, still lakes…(They think) disruptions will be temporary, and when things settle back down, they’ll be back in the calm, still lake. But, as the author explains, we never get out of the rapids — continuous change IS the course.  Knowing this, leaders need to plan realistically. This means understanding when the team needs to pull off and regroup. It means ensuring the team has the right tools and supplies. It also means using the company values to help guide the team and make important decisions about when to stay the course and when to abort mission.

Creating a Clear Vision. The position the leader takes makes a big difference. In a raft, the leader sits in the back so they can give direction, motivate, and get everyone rowing together. This seat also allows the ​leader to see the horizon and plan ahead. To do this successfully, the leader must trust the team to focus on the immediate changes, so they can drive consistency in the way the team interacts and pivot based on their feedback.

Creating a strong team. Rafts can’t go far without everyone working together. ​It’s important that everyone gives equal effort or the boat can flip without notice. One person can steer the entire boat off course​. Leaders need to ensure the right people are in the boat, and that they are sitting in the right seats to leverage everyone’s strengths. They also need to immediately address and perhaps remove people that impact the team rhythm and/or don’t align with the values. Giving real time feedback and coaching is essential to keep the team on course. 

Minnesota Gopher coach PJ Fleck uses the phrase “Row the Boat” to create a never give up team culture. Our teams need the same passion and discipline to create a consistent culture during constant change. We need to create a realistic course, create a clear vision, and create teams to end 2021 strong and be ready for the white waters of 2022.

12 Months of Leadership Lessons

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March 17th, 2020. The day the world changed as my company, and many others, suddenly became a fully remote workforce. A year later we are emerging with new experiences, losses and lessons, and new wisdom. Here are my Top 12 Leadership Lessons from the last 12 months.

12. Let Others Paint Their Own Picture. Sending my son to college in the pandemic was tough. I focused on what was missing instead of what was possible and had to reframe. As a mom and leader, my job is to create a blank canvas without my perceptions coloring it.

11. Remote Work Works. Why did it take a pandemic for us to trust people to be accountable and responsible enough to work remotely? For years, we in HR insisted we need a program, a form, and a process to manage how people work. Turns out all we need is good communication, clear expectations, and flexibility. Imagine that.

10. “We Are In The Same Storm But Not The Same Boat.” This was one of the most powerful quotes and poems of the last year (full text here). The pandemic illuminated inequity in society, healthcare, and our workplaces. We are far from the shore of the promised land. As leaders we must continue this journey and use our privledge to part the waters for others.

9. Make Mental Health a Priority for yourself and your team. We don’t know what others are covering, experiencing, or mourning. As a leader we need to create safe spaces filled with empathy. We need to build our vulnerability muscle to be a strong team.

8. Really Invite Authentic Selves To Work. This year we have Zoomed in closer to each others’ families, pets, and homes than ever before. We have been forced to bring more of ourselves to work. As leaders, our job is to invite and embrace our whole team as whole people.

7. Constrained Innovation is Breathtaking. Watching our scientists, restaurants, and healthcare workers reimagine working models has been inspiring. We need to give our team airtime for their new ideas and innovations.

6. There is Power in The Pause. The shutdown opened up the opportunity for new routines. Taking time to read, journal, and move our bodies is time well spent. Create the time for your team to build pause into their day – and allow yourself the same grace.

5. We Can Make A Nice Bake. The Great British Bake Off encouraged us to create and try things we never prioritized before. While the sourdough and cakes were delicious, the real lesson is taking time to tap into our creativity and letting our inner star baker out.

4. Learn to Reckon With the Rumble. In politics and at work we don’t all have the views or vantage point. As Brene Brown says, “The reckoning is how we walk into our story; the rumble is where we own it. The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives.”

3. Why Hoard When We Can Help? Hoarding toilet paper, information, or power makes you an ass. As leaders we should reward and recognize collaboration and make knowledge sharing an expectation.

2. Words Matter. The words of a leader incite action. Use them to incite learning not violence.

  1. Connectivity Is Powerful. It has been hard not to see or hug family, friends, and teammates. But we can be connected even if we are not together. As leaders our job is to build the team not the “stuff.” Taking time to connect personally and professionally is what powers performance and engagement.

Twelve months ago, the pandemics we’re facing changed us and the way we work. The losses are many and the heartbreak is overwhelming. We have had to learn new ways of interacting and had the opportunity for many leadership lessons. These are twelve of my leadership lessons from the last twelve months. I look forward to hearing and learning from yours.