This past week, in one of his first moves as the US President-elect, Joe Biden announced he formed an advisory board on Covid-19.
Today I’m recommending that you form one too.
Not to make recommendations about how to handle the ongoing global pandemic, mind. No, no, the kind of board of advisers I am envisioning for you will provide observations, assessments and advice about – you.
Lorraine Kenny, Executive Director and HR Lead at MSD Ireland, one of the country’s top healthcare companies, has cultivated and curated her own personal and professional board of advisers for many years. I had the privilege of being virtually introduced to her earlier this year by the organisation’s Corporate Communications Manager Barbara Coyle.
“I’m sure you two would get along famously,” Barbara said after I led a team of remote MSD employees on one of my “Hour of Power” purposeful communications sessions. “You both share the same approach to developing and empowering people.”
“Wonderful,” I enthused, “I look forward to it.”
Barbara was right. It wasn’t long after our introduction, that Lorraine and I were putting our heads together – from a safe, social distance apart naturally – and creating a special series to provide strategies and tools to help emerging female leaders influence their career paths.
“What should we call it?” Lorraine, together with Trish Kavanaugh, MSD’s Global Director for Learning & Development, asked as we held a brain-storming session one evening.
“How about ‘The Key Series’ – Learning to Unlock Your Full Potential?” I suggested.
We agreed, the graphics team was alerted, a logo was created and a series was born. So far, since its inception, I’ve guided two cohorts of women from all over the world on a progressive four-part discovery journey of goal-setting, crafting and delivering messages to better connect, and learning how to better structure and leverage networking.
The sessions during the series are filled with personal sharing, exercises, role-plays and discussions. I’m always humbled by the honesty and the reflections the women feel comfortable to share. But it’s our networking session that provides the most surprises.
“I didn’t realise this was a life-long effort that I need to deliberately organize,” came a comment.
“I didn’t think you could tell people who weren’t your direct manager about your professional goals,” remarked a participant.
“I never thought about simply asking a person from a different department for a virtual coffee,” came another.
Although our Key Series is aimed at women, I’m sure there are many men reading this today who also struggle with the notion of ‘networking’. So, instead of networking, take on board today the opportunity to assemble your very own board of advisers.
Joe Biden’s Covid-board is made up of 13 individuals. While they are all work in some form of health care, they are also from different parts of the country, different genders, ages and ethnic backgrounds.
1) Seek people with different perspectives
Similarly, Lorraine explains how her board of advisers is comprised of a wide variety of people.
“My board is made up of a mix of people I now work with, people I have worked with and people from my personal life. It’s multi-level. It doesn’t have to be people who are senior to you. Some of the people I receive the most insights from are people in different places in their career. It’s not about having a CEO. It’s not about bullsh*t. It’s about people in my life who give advice and insights.”
Fast Company magazine recommends recruiting people who fall in these categories:
• Industry expert
• Influencer or connector
• Strong supporter
• Thoughtful critic
2) Give back to your board of advisors
“Keeping this going takes work,” stresses Lorraine. “It’s not passive. You have to remember it’s not just about you, it’s also about them. One of my guys was a man I worked for for 15 years. When he left his position, he felt perhaps he was too old to find a new job. But I reverse mentored him and he found a great new job.
So, think about the others. Even if it’s a Sunday evening and you’re tired, if you haven’t spoken to someone for a long while, make the effort and call. And in this virtual world, that likely means being on camera when you call them,” she says.
By establishing a committed two-way road of trust and support between you and your board member, you become invested in each other’s success.
3) Rotate your board membership
Once a member always a member. Well, not always. As Lorraine says, “Keep it fluid. There are people I have had with me for twenty years and people I am inviting now.”
Studies show that good mentoring and support from someone who values you, holds you accountable and suggests different approaches to challenges you may be facing, can help you accelerate toward greater career success including promotions, pay rises or other opportunities like perhaps being asked to be a part of someone else’s board of advisers.
In fact, when I asked Lorraine if I could interview her for this article she said yes, and added, “Speaking of which, I’d like you to join my board.”
You would be right in guessing that I replied, “Of course, I’d be honoured!” You see, I know I also get her as an adviser to me in return.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon