If you want to get promoted, people will generally advise you to do two things: find mentors and cultivate sponsors.

But while this is good advice, it’s insufficient.

Even with a sponsor, you’ll still need others to support and advocate for you once you’re at that new higher level. And mentors can give you sage advice, but typically won’t have the clout to make things happen for you career-wise.

To rise to your full career potential, you need more than a sponsor and mentors. You need the support of a group of people who are senior enough to make a difference in your career and in a position to make an impact. You need your own Career Board of Directors.

What is a Career Board of Directors?

Your Career Board of Directors is a collection of people who can help you advance in your career. Unlike mentors, who advise you from the sidelines, your Career Board of Directors members are able to go beyond just giving guidance.

Your Career Board of Directors will likely include your sponsor if you have one, and some of your senior mentors. But it’s a broader group than that.  

While your mentors can and should be from a variety of organizations so they can advise you dispassionately, your Career Board of Directors are likely to be inside your organization.

The good news is, this is a conceptual board of directors, not a group you convene

In fact, you probably won’t want to tell them they’ve been “appointed” to your Career Board of Directors. This takes the pressure off of them and you.

But you do need to take them seriously, treat them professionally and build relationships with them over time. Just like you would a corporate board of directors.

After all, this is not a fan club, a group of therapists, or close friends. They’re people who can make things happen for your career.

So who should be on your Career Board of Directors?

There are three kinds of people who deserve a seat on your Career Board of Directors.

  • Decision-makers: those who have the final say in your pay, promotion and projects
  • Influencers: people who have the ear of decision-makers and can influence outcomes
  • Advocates: people who are already vocal supporters whether in public or behind closed doors

Think of this as your “Avengers” group. And yes, some candidates may be aspirational. There’s no point having mostly people at your level or more junior on your board because they won’t be able to make things happen for you, which is a key part of the definition of your Career Board of Directors. After all, if you were assembling a superhero team, wouldn’t you go for the best?

So the question is, who would you most benefit from having on your team? Don’t let the fact that some of them don’t know you yet hold you back. If you don’t envision it, it won’t happen.

To help you choose your Career Board of Directors members, ask yourself these five questions

1. Who is in your chain of command?

Start with the people who you absolutely need to have onside. Your boss and skip-level bosses are your immediate “family” at work. If they don’t back you, it’ll be hard to advance in your career. But the more senior you become, the more you’ll also need others beyond your direct reporting line. More on that in a moment.

2. Who determines your pay, promotion and projects?

While this could be the same list as your chain of command, think carefully about whether there are others who may be involved.

For example, the head of our group had the clout to get our junior associate paid at the top of the pay band, but he couldn’t single-handedly get her promoted. There was a committee with other colleagues involved.

Also, you might find that it’s a subset of the list of your chain of command. Maybe it’s just your boss and skip-level boss who make those decisions and the top-level leader is too far removed to really have a say in how you’re recognized. Or the top-level leader might call all the shots while your boss and skip-level boss have little influence.

So think it through. And it might help to compare notes with peers you trust.

3. Who are the key influencers of those people?

People who have the ear of decision-makers are vital because you may not be able to get time with those decision-makers directly. Also, it’s likely to be easier to build a relationship with those influencers.

In fact, influencers can give you great advice about how to get to the decision-makers and even make an introduction to pave the way for you.

Even if you do have a great relationship with decision-makers, they can still be swayed by those influencers. So it pays to look at who the influencers are and build your own relationships with them.

4. Who are senior people in other areas where there is business overlap?

The best and surest way to build relationships and credibility is to find common ground. When there’s an overlap in your business interests, that’s an automatic opportunity to get a meeting and “talk shop”. Look for the common goals where you can create mutual advantage, and not the areas where you might conflict.

They could help defuse a conflict or provide insights into business opportunities you might not otherwise have come up with. You can help them look good and there’s a natural set of topics to discuss.

You’ll have a natural reason to get in touch and have an ongoing relationship. They’ll also have a greater chance of seeing you in action and understanding the value you add.

5.  Who is already an advocate for you?

Among the people who are already in your corner, it’s worth assessing who travels in the circles that decision-makers travel in. And hopefully, some of the senior decision-makers are already your advocates!

Whatever their seniority, people who already believe in you are to be treasured. They help spread the positive word about you without being asked. You don’t need to do any convincing and they’re already speaking up on your behalf.

You may not even be aware of all the people who are advocates for you. And there unfortunately may be some who say all the right things to you in private, but don’t like to use their political capital to advocate for anyone when it counts. So be on the lookout for the genuine advocates. They’re incredibly valuable.

But what if some of these people are beyond your reach?

You don’t have to win over your entire Career Board of Directors at the same time. Start with your aspirational ideal and just get started. Don’t focus just on the obstacles so much that it keeps you from trying.

Think “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.” In other words, some of the people on your Career Board of Directors can help you get to the rest.

The most senior members of your Career Board of Directors are likely to be 2-3 levels above you, which means you’re almost certain to know people who know or influence them.

For example, if you’re in an entry-level job at a Fortune 500 corporation, you don’t need to jump a dozen levels to get the CEO on your Career Board of Directors. But if you happen to be the Deputy CEO’s right-hand person, then the CEO should probably be on your list.

Put yourself in the best position to succeed in your career

If you’re serious about your career and want to get the pay, promotion and recognition you deserve, don’t leave your career to chance. Instead, it’s time to form your own Career Board of Directors. It’s never too early and also never too late. Just start.

As you form your Career Board of Directors, ask yourself these five questions:

  • Who is in my chain of command?
  • Who determines my pay, promotion and projects?
  • Who are key influencers of those people?
  • Who are senior people in other areas where there is business overlap?
  • Who is already an advocate for me?

So, how about you?

What’s the first step you can take to start forming your Career Board of Directors?

Leave a comment and let me know.