Last week, a friend and I were having dinner in San Francisco, debating the merits of our fascination with Mindy Kaling, when the conversation quickly turned to more serious topics. She wanted to know if she should end her relationship with her boyfriend and if she should officially leave her stable job at a big corporation to fulfill her itch to work at a startup.
For over fifteen years, I have been on her personal board of advisors, the team of people that she regularly consults to help her make decisions, whether it’s personal, professional, or both. In our twenties and thirties, we’re all confronted with an array of decisions related to careers, relationships, friendships, and family dynamics. Should I go for the promotion or switch jobs? How do I know if this guy is just some guy or “the one”? How should I handle my overbearing boss? What is the best way to create better boundaries with my parents and in-laws?
Just as corporations hit critical inflection points and turn to their boards of directors for guidance, when you, as an individual, hit key junctures or stumbling blocks, you need a team you can count on. Ultimately, any given decision is yours to make, but it is valuable to hear a variety of perspectives and engage in dialogues that shake up your thinking. Thus, it’s important to have a diverse board.
While it’s certainly important to have a personal board of advisors whose members cover a range of ages, backgrounds, races, and career experiences, there is another important consideration — engaging people with differing personalities. This varied selection is important because it pushes you to examine tough decisions from different perspectives. Below are six personality attributes to consider when assembling your personal board of advisors:
1. The straight shooter has the ability to tell it like it is. He or she may tell you things you don’t want to hear, but that you need to hear. This person will be honest, frank, and occasionally harsh. A couple years ago, I told a straight shooter friend that I was frustrated by some feedback I received from my boss about my communication style. She looked at me in the eye and said, “Maybe it’s you, not your boss. You verbally process out loud, so it’s hard to determine your stance versus ideas you are processing. You should be more conscious of what you say and when.” Although it was initially hard to swallow, her advice ultimately pushed me to become a stronger communicator.
2. The connector is outstanding at connecting you to other people and resources. You can give a connector almost any situation, and he or she has an idea about who to engage or where to look for more information to advance your agenda. I recently told a connector friend of mine that I was trying to write a book. Her reply: “Have you looked into memoir classes at UC Berkeley? I also have two friends in publishing and one who is a literary agent. Want me to connect you?” This person is the one who forwards emails, makes introductions, and sends links to helpful websites.
3. The “out of the box” thinker (OOTBT) is the person who sees endless possibilities and creative solutions. You begin a conversation believing only two options exist, path A or path B, but you leave the conversation considering paths C, D, and E. For instance, one Sunday, I went to my husband, an OOTBT who led recruiting strategy at a large tech company, to get his thoughts on how to help one of my best friends improve her dating success. He immediately connected her dating conundrum with corporate hiring yields, whipping together ten PowerPoint slides that featured a dating strategy through the lens of recruiting employees. Within a month, my friend followed his approach and was in a relationship.
4. The inspirer is your own personal Tony Robbins. Inspirers can pick you up when you are down or they can get you juiced about something you didn’t even know you would be excited about. The energy and enthusiasm in their voices gets your adrenaline pumping. If you are nervous about a presentation or about taking a career leap, it is wise to consult an inspirer. Before I seriously considered trying to get some of my writing published, my inspirer took me out for coffee and beignets: “Les, you have a powerful way with words. I would read anything you wrote. You’re passionate about social justice and writing. Why not combine the two?” She gave me just the inspiration I needed to take the leap.
5. The expert advisor is someone who has particular expertise or knowledge applicable to a specific question or problem. I recently served as an expert advisor to a former colleague who is working on a project related to K12 education in underserved communities. As someone who spent six years as an educator and a couple years doing education work at a consulting firm, I was able to answer her questions and advance her analysis, based on concrete experience and facts.
6. The safe harbor is the person you can go to on almost any topic. You don’t have to be polished. A safe harbor has no agenda and passes no judgment. Often, you have a longstanding personal relationship with this person, so it feels safe. For instance, when I first learned I had a medical condition a couple years ago, the first person I went to was my safe harbor.
Some people can serve in multiple advisor roles, but you likely won’t find all the valuable attributes in a single person. If you are missing any of these personality strengths from your current cabinet, I encourage you to expand your circle and begin to recruit a new board member.