July 24, 2018

Why your career needs a board of directors

Who is steering the ship in your career?

I hope it’s you.  But you shouldn’t go it alone.

Organizations large and small rely on expertise and insight from a key group of leaders — the board of directors — as they navigate decisions, explore opportunities and craft plans for the future.  You may be one person, but in your life, your career planning and decision-making are no less important.

Whether you are struggling to chart your next move or know exactly where you’re going, I recommend you create your own board of directors to help you stay on track, seize opportunity and build the career you’ve been striving for.

What boards look like

Board duties vary according to whether they involve a non-profit or for-profit enterprise, but there are common principles organizations are encouraged to consider when assembling a board.  Julie Garland McLellan recommends entrepreneurs assemble a diverse group of directors who can lead the venture well into the future as it evolves beyond its current form.  She says a range of skills and perspectives is important, as is identifying people who are comfortable voicing dissenting opinions.

What your personal board should look like

Similarly, a career board should be composed of people who bring a variety of perspectives to your career planning and decision-making.  You need people who understand you, what’s important to you, where you have come from and where you are headed.  You also need people who understand how your profession works and who will bring useful insight for navigating relationships and choosing next steps.  And you need people who are willing to ask hard questions, tell you what you might not want to hear and nudge you to embrace challenges or change directions.

Who should be on your board

I recommend a core group of permanent members whose perspectives will be important no matter where your career takes you.  These could include:

  • Spouse or partner
  • Spiritual adviser
  • Long-term mentor

In addition, you’ll likely find your needs change over time.  Accommodate this evolution with a mix of impermanent seats on your board.  The impermanence of these seats does not make them less important, but you need to recognize some relationships will eventually become less critical to your career trajectory, and of course the interests of your board members may change, too.  Impermanent members might include:

  • Shorter-term mentors or career guides, possibly specific to a certain job or growth goal
  • Colleagues
  • Industry network contacts
  • Prospective colleagues or employers

Regardless of who you choose, be clear with your board about why you have asked them to play an advisory role in your career and the type of support you’re looking for.

How to interact with your board

Depending on the composition of your board, formal face-to-face, video-chat or phone meetings may make sense … or they may seem impractical.  Maybe a private Facebook group or a Slack channel will make more sense.  Or a blend of one-on-one conversations and a group email chain.

Whatever you choose, you need some way of communicating clearly and regularly, and of allowing multi-directional communication.  As your board members bounce ideas off one another, new thinking — and a new direction for your next move — may arise. And however you choose to interact, don’t forget to say “thank you” for the guidance you receive in ways that matter to the individuals involved.

Where could your board take you?

When you have a group of engaged, smart people who have a variety of perspectives and a shared interest in supporting your growth, the sky is the limit.”

Your board can help you navigate challenges and embrace opportunity in your existing role, while charting a path to your next move that gets you where you want to go five, 10 or 20 years from now.  Forming a board is a foundational step to designing the career of your dreams.

Do you have a personal board?

Who did you invite to your board, and how has your board helped you navigate your career? Please share in the comments!

— Last updated June 24, 2023