When I share my personal career path, people often say to me “wow, that’s amazing planning” – now, in the rear view mirror of hindsight, hubris and ego make it look like a strategic straight line. Make no mistake it was a white knuckle zig-zag of a ride but by sharing some of my tips, I hope to save you some bumps in the road.
Most people don’t even think about their next job until it’s brutally clear they need to start looking, most start looking and networking only when they have lost a job. I often say that looking for a job when you need one is like looking for a date the morning of Feb 14 or looking for someone to kiss at 11:59pm on New Year’s eve: Oh you’ll find someone, but they will be what you can get, not what you need or deserve.
I refuse to live life with lowered expectations.
And so years ago, I sought out mentors. There are many formal mentoring programs in professional associations. Young people are often told “get a mentor” in University or College. The problem is, those associations are all “pay-to-play” membership based ( which most often young professionals have NO access to) and having just one mentor is putting all your eggs in one basket. Plus I think that the noble sage version of mentorship is outdated – who has the time for 2 hour boozy lunch meetings listening to some wise leadership type pontificate? I was delighted to find that the folks at Harvard Business agree.
Here are some personal tips from me on my unorthodox board:
The Dynamic Sector Leader : This leader pulls you up. In my 12 year career in charities working in bequest and legacy giving, Ken Ramsay has been a mentor of incredible help and inspiration. He has worked in faith-based organizations like myself and has carved a powerfully successful career and gained wisdom along the way. He is at the top of his game and has challenged me to think bigger at every stage of my career. Taking a career risk is so much less scary when the voice of wisdom and experience is whispering “jump, you can do it”. This board member is one you learn from, listen to and watch. Contact with them is infrequent as they are often very very busy. A meeting once a year is a good goal to shoot for. I would recommend choosing someone who is never satisfied with their own status, so they won’t let you get comfy with yours.
The Next Generation : I am privileged to have formed a relationship in my sector of fundraising to teach at Georgian and lead/lecture with Humber College. They have allowed me to create an army of hard working, passionate young professionals. Frankie Chow is just one of them. These leaders push you forward. They teach you new technologies you may not understand, because as natives to it they live it. They keep you on your toes, keep you humble because they will call BS on you if it escapes your lips, keep your heart pure and your gratitude level high as walking with them through the challenges of coming up in the world reminds you what you have and what to be grateful for. Frankly, they also scare you a little bit. Seeing them in the rear-view mirror, keeps you running faster forward.
Sector experts. Also known as fellow nerds. People who are just a little ahead of you, not twenty years but five or ten. They are cerebral and things you enjoy “thinking” and “doing” they obsess like you and together you can nerd it up without fear of alienating peers. You can’t meet often but they make great twitter peers and conference buddies – smart people who share what they are learning with you. Ann is mine, for every 5 hours I’ve spent thinking about something, she has spent 5 days and has done it for 5 years.
Non-Sector experts. People who do NOT do what you do. For me this is the many successful business entrepreneurs in my network. As a fundraiser I believe we are closer to entrepreneurs than we are cubicle dwellers in business. We have so much to learn from them, spending time with people outside your sector brings fresh new ideas to your world. For me, this was the twitteratti who taught me the power of this medium.
The Fixers. These are the expert problem solvers. Often these are consultants with many years business experience who make a living creating clarity. I’m lucky to have on my board Alan Kay who literally is an expert in something called “Solutions Focus”. Studying and learning from him changed my entire life. I often refer him to my network to save organizations from themselves. This position often changes depending on what stage you are in your career, building, leading, creating, consulting.
The Disruptors. These people challenge the status quo. They will often challenge YOUR status quo. I know dozens of peers right now who have good jobs, flexible work environments but they know it’s time for change. But those golden handcuffs are too comfy. I was in this place, I had a nice easy five year plan. Meeting in a Starbucks one Tuesday afternoon Promod ripped up my plan asking questions about what I wanted in my business life. Sharing his wisdom and story, woke me up from my complacency. Watching and learning from him since always keeps me fired up, and on my toes.
Last but never least, the running-partner. These people support but challenge you by being you, maybe better. They can be younger or older but someone you have regular access to and who you keep in touch with often. They push and pull you in micro-ways and coach you from inside the moment as a peer. They are your sounding board and unlike the other directors they are a little more invested in your success. In my life Christina Attard does the same legacy work I do but her activity blogging, in digital communication, in legacy giving keeps me motivated and sometimes annoys me into bucking up by simply outperforming me at my own strengths.
Now, this board will probably never meet. They will probably not know they are “on the board” but they should always feel your gratitude and you should fight hard to be of value to them in their business life. I even created a personal award to say thank you to mine.
So where to start? I leave you with two fabulous resources on this topic: A detailed blog-series on how to set up your board and a brilliant minute-and-a-half coaching video below.
Continued success in all you do, Paul