Want to Advance? Set up Your Own Personal Board of Directors

Deb PineBy Deb Pine, Executive Director, Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business & Bentley University Executive Education

As experienced and trusted advisors, mentors can have a significant impact on your career trajectory. Research has shown that people who have mentors are more likely to get promotions and are more satisfied in their jobs. When Indra Nooyi became the CEO at PepsiCo, she credited the mentoring she received for helping her break glass ceilings in business, “If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Who are the best mentors for you? Individuals in your professional and personal network who have knowledge and skills you don’t have. Typically, more senior than their mentees, mentors advise, support, build self-esteem and listen—they are both role models and cheerleaders. Should you have more than one mentor? Absolutely. Multiple relationships increase access to knowledge and advice. In fact, I recommend you establish your own personal board of directors.

Why a personal board of directors? Consider the role of a corporate board: experienced people with expertise in areas critical to the success of the company who provide insight and guidance to ensure a company is on the right course.

The role of a personal board of directors is quite similar. In order to meet your career goals—perhaps you want to switch fields, start your own company or advance in your current company—you should build a personal board of directors comprised of mentors who have expertise in the areas in which you need to grow in order to achieve these goals. Your board ensures you are on the right course to success.

How can you start to build your personal board of directors?

Be intentional. Before approaching someone to mentor you, be clear about what you want out of the relationship so that the mentor can see where they can add the most value. And don’t be hesitant to approach a potential mentor, particularly a female one. Three-quarters of women say they always accept invitations to serve as a mentor and the overwhelming majority of women report that they would mentor more if asked.

Be diverse. Include both male and female mentors. Research on whether women are most successful with male or female mentors is not clear-cut and in fact, you should have both.

Be resourceful. Check in with your human resource or talent management department to find out about mentoring programs that may exist. If there are none, consider asking them about piloting a program.

Be open to looking beyond the obvious. Certainly mentors can be found within your firm who will be familiar with the culture, policies and personalities. However, including external perspectives on your personal board will ensure you get objective advice as well as diverse industry or functional expertise.

Once you have established your board, actively engage with your mentors. Be candid about your goals and challenges; listen to advice and feedback, even when it may be difficult to hear; report back on your progress and build trust by doing great work. Your personal board of directors will be more invested if they can see the positive impact they are having on your career.


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