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A key to my professional success has been my commitment to developing a personal ‘Board of Directors.’ A Board of Directors is a curated group of individuals who can provide guidance, opportunity, and wisdom to your career at every stage. Follow the four steps below to identify, invite, and maintain connectivity to your board as your career progresses!
Ask questions. The quest for knowledge and the desire to satisfy my curiosity has led me to ask a ton of questions throughout my career. What does a Chief of Staff do? What is corporate diversity and inclusion? How should I dress for an interview? Starting in high school, I sought out the answers to some of these more complex questions. I asked my family, my friends, alumni from my high school, and pretty much anyone that would lend their time. By seeking out the experience of having a conversation, I was able to start creating a personal group of contacts with which to share information, exchange ideas and insights, and simply connect - the beginnings of my Board!
Connect the dots. From there, I started to look for patterns in the relationships and networks I’d built. I landed an internship with Nike my junior year of college by contacting the business partner of a family friend who had previously worked at the company. With zero expectations, I peppered him with questions and made an earnest attempt to understand his experiences because I saw value in his advice and his observations. Next comes the secret sauce to building your Board: don’t be transactional. Build trust by being cordial and reliable, just like any other friendship. Be timely, send thank you notes, appeal to the things that genuinely interest you and them. That topic could be sports, music, religion, family, work, and more. Consider both their career and their character. Evaluate whether you are ready to invest in them just as much as they might be ready to invest in you. If they aren’t responsive at first, be persistent. But if it’s not the right fit, move on.
Give to receive. The Nike internship produced invaluable relationships and experiences for me. I was surrounded by talented individuals 24/7 and I worked to soak up their work ethic and perspectives. By the end of the summer I had identified 2-3 people who would become lifelong Directors on my Board and I set about building sustainable relationships while preparing to head back to school. Howard “H” White, VP at Jordan Brand was one such man. Howard is a formidable icon at Nike. He’s gregarious, wise, and humble – along with a decades long career at Nike where he is widely credited with leading the team that helped keep Michael Jordan with Nike when Jordan briefly considered a move to Adidas.
In addition to stopping by his office daily to ask him questions about the business, I began to ask him what I could do to help. As it turned out, he was looking for interns to support a summer project and I managed to be of some service. From there, we established a mutual basis for respect and trust – and Howard began to feel invested in my future. This is key. I told H that I would be asking him for advice and sharing my life updates with him moving forward because of the knowledge and respect he had bestowed upon me as an intern. Giving him my best effort and attitude enabled me to receive a lifelong Board Member.
It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. I now confer with my Board for every major professional life decision -- from navigating difficult conversations to managing my time. What I’ve learned along the way, is that by inviting and, when appropriate, implementing my Board’s feedback, I’ve become known to them as someone who takes action and invites critique. Get your Board to recognize you. Do great work. Your name will become your reputation and your reputation will become how others consider you. You want to get your Board to the point where they are calling on you for advice and opportunities because you have shown them integrity and the quality of your work.
Ultimately, building your Board of Directors is like building a best friendship. Find a common connection, and authentically build trust and loyalty with that individual. Over time, the flow of ideas, advice, and asks should be mutual. Building a Board of Directors is critical to holding yourself accountable for progression and growth. Give constantly, and always be open to receiving.