Most people know that in order to be successful, they need to have a good relational support system. This system might include friends, family, Church, and community.
What many business leaders don't realize is that this relationship support may also include having a professional advisory team. This team is able to address key issues you face as a business leader, but it is not the same as your board of directors that serves your organization. It is not your executive team within your company. This professional advisory team is made up of important relationships outside of your organization that mentor you, give you honest feedback, and hold you accountable to your goals.
To make sure we are on the same page, in some industries this conversation circles around career development. It includes mentoring programs, peer mentoring, and professional development programs. The Harvard Business Review has an excellent article on improving mentorship programs inside your company. In this article, however, we are going to talk about how to build your personal confidence in leadership by taking personal responsibility for building your own independent advisory team outside of your company, regardless of your company's formal mentoring programs. I will show exactly why this is important.
Why are advisors important? In a nutshell:
So the last time you looked in the mirror, what did you see?
Did you really see you ... or did you just see one angle of yourself--the only angle you really ever see?
The Rule of Three
Let me tell you a short, kind of embarassing, personal story.
When we first moved to Colorado Springs in 2001, we bought our home on the eastern edges of town. There was only sand. We all had to buy our trees at a local nursery and install our own lawn.
When I planted the saplings I was aware that the straight line winds came from north. They were unrelenting. So, of course, I tied a string from the baby tree to a stake on the north side to hold it up. In my wisdom, I also tied a string on the south side, "Just in case."
Well, you know what happened. Obviously. I was not thinking. A came out a few days later and the saplings were flat on the ground. East to west. What did I do wrong?
That's right. I forgot the third tie down. I did not tie the third line of strength. Triangulation. What makes me feel even more silly is that three strings, even if tied with no real measurements, will do the job. Even an estimation of a triangle would have kept the growing tree safe and steady.
The same is true for you. You need strong advisors who can hold you steady from different angles as you are growing in your role as a leader.
I sometimes call this an advisory circle.
Sometimes I like the sound of advisory table.
What do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.
5 reasons why it's important to have a professional advisory team:
- You need different kinds of guidance and support as you gain more altitude in leadership.
- They can help you make key decisions and upgrade your problem solving skills..
- They will get you out of the echo-chamber and provide you with independent feedback.
- This team can help keep you on track and support you on a personal level.
- You will not be alone anymore. This might be the most important reason.
What an Advisory Team Does for You
A board of independent advisors can provide you with invaluable support. If they are diverse in their expertise, they will provide different angles of support. With the right team of advisors in proximity to you, you can focus on building your business and reaching your goals with tons more confidence in your journey.
You need different kinds of guidance and support as you gain more altitude in leadership.
What if in a moment I could wave a wand and grant you access to a wealth of knowledge and experience? Build your own advisory table. Poof. I just did it.
Information is easy to find on the internet, but wise counsel is not. Wisdom is not found in books, it is found in the competency of those who care for you. As you grow your need for new insights, the wisdom you need will change.
Here is something you may not have considered. The voices you depended on when you were starting out may not be the same voices you need today. Your needs change as your responsibilities grow. When you were very young, you may have looked for a role model. As you have grown older, you might need a relationship with a person who is a more experienced individual. You may need more face to face coaching or skills development.
As your team grows, you will need new tools to lead. As you face bigger challenges in life and in business, you will need counsel from people who have fought those same dragons.
It is OK to make changes to your trusted advisory circle. Many seats in this circle are seasonal, and that is normal.
They can help you make key decisions and upgrade your problem solving skills.
Making big decisions is a critical part of owning and running a business, and having an advisory team to help you make those decisions can be extremely valuable. They can provide you with their insights and expertise, which can help you make the best decisions for your company.
We all get into situations where we need a new pair of eyes on the subject. Just like when we look in a mirror and see only one side of ourselves, we need to see different sides of both the problem and how we are viewing the problem. These are two different things a circle of advisors can give us.
Simply understanding the nature of the challenges we face from different vantage points is an incredible value. For example, you want to take on a partner in the business to help carry the load. From your perspective, this is a critical need because you are tired and you want help. You could make that decision from your point of view, alone. However, your attorney may immediately ask questions about future liabilities and creating clear expectations around ownership. Your accountant may immediately propose different structures for your decision that will change the tax position for you and the company. A business coach may shine a light on the pros and cons of the new leadership dynamics that will invariably result from taking on a partner. Your spouse or a close friend may have some personal insights about deepening a professional partnership with someone who has just been a friend in the seasons before.
See how quickly different angles of influence can be enjoyed by enlisting the help of others? The question I have for you is: Do you have a circle of advisors and are you asking them for their insights before you make decisions? Or do you just report to them after you have made your choices?
They will get you out of the echo-chamber and provide you with independent feedback.
It may be impossible to get unprejudiced advice or feedback within your organization. This does not mean you can't trust your colleagues at work. Quite the contrary. I hope you are enjoying great team dynamics and a culture of collaboration and support. What I am saying is that those whose lives we affect with our decisions are hampered in giving us unprejudiced feedback on many of our leadership decisions. If your decision will affect an employee or a partner, their reflections on that decisions will be influenced by their own issues. Good or bad, this is always the case.
You need an independent sounding board for your ideas. When you’re starting or running a business, it’s important to have someone, or several someones, to bounce ideas off of. Your advisory team can serve as that trusted source of reflection. They can help you evaluate your ideas and give you feedback on how likely they are to be successful. The great thing is that when they give you their reflections, they will not be affected by your decision. This allows them the freedom to challenge you. They can ask next level questions. Hold on. They might even disagree with you.
If there is one thing I have always needed in my leadership journey, it was someone who could disagree with me and love me at the same time. I didn't say I liked it. I said I needed it.
This team can help keep you on track and supported on a personal level.
The last point led us to this important value of having an advisory team. We need personal support during challenging times. We need personal connections when we are trying something new. We also need people who care for us when we need to mature as a parent, a spouse, or as a friend. This stuff is part of our business life as well.
The adage is true: healthy people build healthy businesses.
It is not possible for unhealthy people to go into work every day and lead others when they are having trouble leading themselves.
Question: If you were having trouble maintaining your physical fitness, who would you lean on? Would you partner with a friend? Would you hire a trainer? Either way, you could make this decision easily. I wonder why it seem so much more complicated to hire a personal trainer for our life?
What I am proposing is that one of the seats at your advisory table might be someone who is uniquely interested in your personal health. This might include your physical, mental, and spiritual health. Where they might know nothing about the mechanics of your business, they might have a lot of insights on shaping the mechanics inside of you as a person.
Businesses often go through challenging times, and it’s helpful to have someone who can offer support and guidance during those times. Your advisory team can work together to be this kind of personal support system for you.
You will not be alone anymore. This might be the most important reason.
Of all the things I would like to avoid for the rest of my life, loneliness tops the list. Now, I am an introvert. I treasure alone time. I do not, however, treasure loneliness.
Anyone who has ever started something has gotten a taste of loneliness. There is a feeling of being the only one when you are out in front. Many of us who have walked in the these pioneering leader shoes have become accustomed to being alone. Many of us have justified it as just part of the price we have to pay. I have a word for you:
Better pronounce it buh low nee for the full effect.
Isolation is not your destiny. It is a temporary state, unless you let it become permanent. It is up to you.
In the structure of your firm, you may indeed occupy a lonely looking space at the top of an org chart. Even if you work as a collaborative team, the buck may still stop with you. So what can you do? Yes, you guessed it. Build meaningful connections with people of strength who care for you outside of your business. I will be able to share more on the "how do do this" in later in this article. I look forward to expanding this conversation using my video channel, but for now let's think on the outcomes of this brave decision:
- You can share your dreams without fear.
- You can share your fears related to failing other people's dreams.
- You can propose more toasts for those who have cared for you.
- You will appear in more group photos while you are having fun.
- You can defeat the negative voices that are loud when you are isolated.
Those were just the first outcomes that came to mind. I bet you can think of more. I really would love to hear them in the comments.
How to Build a Professional Advisory Team When You Don't Have Much To Start With
Let's tackle a few of the practical ways to move this forward. We need ways to improve our advisory circle starting right now. Please don't receive this article as a challenge for a sweeping, immediate makeover. Let's pick one thing to improve this month and get it done. This is one area of leadership growth where incrementalism is most welcome.
H.B., how do I identify the right people to be at my advisory table? Good question. I would like to answer this question from the worst case scenario. Let's assume that you have no real independent advisors at this time and you don't know where to begin.
There are a few key things you can do to find people who are willing to invest in you:
Brainstorm Your Needs: Sit down and write out the stuff that is causing you trouble in life and in business. What are these categories of trouble? Who could help with each of these? What kind of expertise might they need? Certifications? Or do they just need a certain perspective or experience.
Brainstorm People. Take the first brainstorming list you made and let's start to attach people you know who might have some connection to the subject. They don't need to be experts. They might just be peers who have worked through similar issues. Aha! Yes. Now you know what to do next. Reach out to this list, no matter how short, and express your interest in meeting more people who could help you with these specific challenges. Ask for introductions and take the time to meet them. Continue the process of unfolding your needs and seeking people (not information) who could help you work through the issues.
Record Your Professional Contacts: If you don't have many professional contacts, the best way to find them is through referrals from people you know and trust. Ask your friends, family, and colleagues if they know anyone in your industry or field who would be a good fit for your personal advisory team. Once you have met them, put them in your CRM as important thought-partners. Tag them by advisory abilities. This way you can start to see the different angles of influence you need more of in your life.
Network: Get connected with people who have the experience and knowledge you need. Attend industry events, join networking groups, and reach out to professionals online. Enter these spaces with the intent to learn from others. Ask questions. Seek out advice. Create conversations that need follow up after the networking event.
Seek Out Mentorship Programs: There are many programs that pair mentors and mentees. Seek out ones that match your needs and interests. If the word "program" does not appeal to you, then seek out someone who has received mentorship or who talks about their mentor. They will have some great insights on how to start developing connections with people who could help you grow in areas outside of your present company's influence.
Broaden the Net. Our advisors might include spouses, parents, or best friends. They might include outside mentors or coaches. They might also include outside professionals, attorneys, accountants, etc. Some may be free. Some you may need to pay for. Either way, be open to widening the net of possibilities.
This article, written by my colleagues at the Exit Planning Institute, has some practical tips on developing a relationship with an advisor in a natural way.
How to Make the Most of Your Personal Advisory Team
Once you have identified your potential advisory team, or at least a few people who might be valuable at the table, here are a few tips to get started:
1. Ask for help.
Announce, in person, that you have a need for counsel and professional input. Ask specifically about their willingness to help. Let them tell you what they are comfortable with.
2. Outline your basic expectations.
Outline the key issues you are presently working on. Make sure you share your plans and goals with your team. They can help you stay on track and give you feedback and advice.
3. Set a schedule.
Talk about the kind of schedule that you think would benefit you. Co-create some kind of meaningful meeting schedule you can both commit to. An advisor should feel like a regular part of your life, not a random advise dispenser.
4. Take their advice seriously.
Your personal advisory team is full of experienced professionals who want to see you succeed. So when they offer advice, take it seriously and consider how you can incorporate it into your plans. Make notes in your time together. Ask follow up questions. If you don't know how to apply advice, then be humble and ask for help.
5. Thank them often.
Expressing your appreciation is so important. It is good for your heart to practice thankfulness. It is good for those who serve us to know their contribution is valuable. We all need encouragement, even your counselors. Thank your personal advisory team for their time, advice, and support. Write notes. Make toasts. Send gifts. Share public praise and appreciation for them. Refer them to others. Let them know how much you appreciate them and what they've done for you.
6. Be Ready for Change.
Virtually no one remains at your advisory table forever. Create limited time commitments at the top of your invitation. Focus on the role and purpose of the advisory seat, not the nature of your relationship with the individual advisor. You can maintain your friendship and still allow for seat changes when necessary.
Let's Get Moving
A personal advisory team can help you navigate your career and achieve your goals. If you don't have any professional contacts, it's time to start building your network. The most important thing is to be proactive and take the initiative to get started. Don't wait for someone to come knocking at your door; put yourself out there and see what happens when you start to share your needs for growth with others.
Getting strings tied to the stakes in your life is up to you. It is not someone else's job. This means you have to identify the people. They are the stakes of stable influence and experience. You have to confess your needs for help. You are the tree growing and becoming the best version of yourself. The strings? The strings are the relationships you build with each person on your team. You must build in some proximity. You must put some tension on the line and test its strength through honesty and a willingness to receive different counsel. You must test these lines regularly.
Did I mention that three was the minimum? Just like the geometry of stabilzing a sapling, it is the same geometry for you. Three minimum. Different kinds of counsel. I call it the Rule of Three. From there you can add more voices as you find to be helpful. I overview the Rule of Three in this 6 minute video:
What are some of the benefits you've experienced from having a personal advisory team? I would love to learn more from you.
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Want to join a select group of leaders working on these issues together? There could be a free webinar on the horizon.