Your “Virtual” Personal Board of Directors

As people and professionals, we all have obstacles, gaps and blind spots that prevent us from reaching our career goals. Historically, young adults were encouraged to engage a mentor for personal development, educational pursuits, career advancement and networking. In today’s ultra-competitive job market, having a mentor is just not enough. A Virtual Personal Board of Directors (VPBOD) – instant access to a robust consortium of resources – is now a “must have” for navigating all the stages of a successful career.

A personal board is a select group of trusted, respected advisors who can offer creative solutions to complex work challenges. It is your own “professional posse” –people that you turn to when you need to hear the unbiased truth (e.g., during career changes, advancement, crises, transitions, difficult choices and ethical dilemmas). It takes some of the fear out of making difficult decisions, and it allows you to climb the learning curve faster than if you were on your own.

The pressures of building and maintaining your career can become overwhelming. In your attempt to succeed, you may lose sight of your dreams and what you were meant to do. You may find yourself putting up with a lucrative but unfulfilling job that you hate or worst yet, being underpaid at a job that is unfulfilling. Your PBOD can help you to maintain your professional goals. They can help you to stay true to your vision and not be sidetracked by the lure of sure money and safe career choices. I truly believe in the saying “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

According to Fast Company, a personal board is a professional support network created to gain access to a vast pool of knowledge, resources and expertise. Unlike traditional boards, there are no formal commitments. Talents are there to use or not use without impacting the relationship. Since the personal board is a virtual one; it does not meet, members do not know each other, there is no invitation to join, and the only common thread is you. It is also fluid; you will be seeking and adding new members all the time. You will call on subsets of them depending on the skill set that you need to address a specific issue. Other members will fade without any need for dialogue.

Since most desirable board members are very busy, it is important that their virtual role be only a very occasional request by you, whether by phone, e-mail or live chat. You might want to think of your PBOD members as specialists that you consult with for help with highly complex matters (e.g., when you’re faced with big decisions, such as: Is it time to move on? Which position should I accept?  How to I negotiate for a raise or promotion?  Should I change careers or go back to school?  How to I deal with an unreasonable boss?  How do I handle unethical organizational requests to lie, misrepresent or steal?).

Different from friendships, board members dispense knowledge nuggets to help you to find the answer that is right for you. They ask questions, share stories and make non-judgmental observations. While you should inform your board members of your progress, daily or weekly progress reports are excessive for their role and not respectful of their time. After a consultation, limit your interactions to accomplishments or important new developments. During the course of a career crisis, you may find that engaging the services of a therapist may be helpful for dealing with anxiety and can lessen the urge to overburden your PBOD. Over use can cause a PBOD member to withdraw from supporting you.

How to Assemble a Virtual Personal Board
A strong personal board is comprised of a diverse mix of gender, ages, personalities, education and experience (e.g., young go-getters, clarifiers, challengers, social connectors, strategic thinkers, intellectuals and elders). Each person should be deliberately chosen for their ability to think strategically and objectively about career issues without judgment. While it is important to have some people who know you well, it is equally as important to have others who are not emotionally tied to the result of your decisions. The goal is to have a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives. Choose people you admire, such as “stars” from within your profession and other members from outside your profession who can help you overcome the confines of the traditional wisdom within your industry. These individuals could be family, friends, prior colleagues, directors, former employers, employees, supervisors, speakers, workshop leaders, teachers, professors, mentors, advisors, industry experts and connections from social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Seek individuals who you could learn from and people who have made an impression on you. The major advantages of having a PBOD is that it provides access to the experience and wisdom of people who normally would not be available to you for the purpose of advancing your career.

There is no formal fee for PVBOD members; the often unspoken expectation for payment is that you pass insights on by offering your time and wisdom to others.  You can be sure there is always someone who is facing similar issues and challenges you have already conquered. This form of payment can help develop confidence, build your network, and increase your sense of professional value. A virtual personal board is a “win-win.” It can help you to face fears, embrace challenges, and find support during difficult times. Additionally, it can help you to craft a career you feel passionate about and ultimately share the knowledge gained for the greater good.