Your Board of Advisors
Hermina Ibarra followed the development of junior consultants at major consulting firms. She found that the consultants who were most successful didn’t model their behavior on one senior consultant. Instead, they observed and drew on the strengths of several role models to build their own unique approach to consulting.[i] Other research suggests the same – the best development comes when people build a diverse and broad board of advisors rather than relying on a single mentor.[ii]
Besides, we all know that the workplace is crazy and full of change. Nobody can rely on a hierarchical progression up a proverbial corporate ladder. Things change too often. We would be wise to think of ourselves as a business of one, and every business should have a board of directors that provides advice, guidance, and maybe most important, accountability. I am a father, husband, leader, follower, teacher, expert and novice – all of them at the same time. Heaven knows I can use as much advice and help that I can get. We also know that we should be checking in with these people now and then. We should get a mentor and meet with them regularly. We should build a network and regularly connect with people.
Hmmm… we think to ourselves, “Great advice!” and it immediately begs the next question: Why don’t we do it? Let me begin with my own excuses, um… I mean… reasons. For one, there’s never enough time. Getting my work done takes so much effort, that getting together with other people always seems to drop to the bottom of the list. This is especially true for the people in my life who I don’t see every day at work. I know that I should be getting together with them more often, but I don’t. Second, I’m not very intentional about the people who we chose as our advisors. If you are like me, I tend to choose people who are easily accessible. I tend not to really think through who the ideal list of people would be. Instead, when I do have a great conversation, it’s because I get lucky. I get together with an old friend or colleague, walk away with great insights, and think, “I should do that more often.” Then, I don’t. Third, I am often afraid to shoot very high. I don’t want to bother people who obviously have a lot more important things to do than talk to me. I limit myself. Even when opportunities do arise, I don’t take advantage of them. I miss the chance to ask a possible mentor if I could buy them lunch and pick their brain because I haven’t even considered the possibility that they might say yes.
Okay, enough talk… Let’s make today different. It’s time to at least build your own board of advisors, and maybe, just maybe, take the first small step to make it a reality.
Create your board of advisors. Write down five people who you would want to have on your “advisory board.” Next to each name write two questions that you would like to ask them. Some of the people should be familiar, solid people in your life – the ones who you turn to for advice right now. Other people should be outside your regular contacts. Include people that represent a variety of roles in your life. The people on your board might include: a wise friend, a current or past mentor, a trusted colleague at work, your spouse, a senior executive or respected expert in your field, and/or a coach. If you are a leader, it should probably also include a couple of employees who are deep in your organization.
Stretch yourself. Add two more names to the list of people who would be a real stretch for you. For example, consider a senior leader who is at least two steps above you at work or a recognized expert in your field who is at least two moves away from where you want to be. Make sure you include at least one person who you think would never say yes. Write this name down and figure out what two questions you would like to ask them if you had the chance. You want to be prepared if such an opportunity ever does present itself. You want to imagine a bigger possibility for yourself. Even if you never connect with this person, generating a list of questions that you would ask can be developmental in and of itself because it forces you to think outside the limits that you have imposed on yourself. Don’t be your own prison guard.
Take the first step. Send an e-mail or call one of the people on your list and set up an appointment. Buy them coffee, have lunch, come with a set of questions. What have you got to lose?
|My Advisory Board|
|Names||Two Questions that I Would Like to Ask this Person|
|Two people who would really stretch me…|
[ii] Higgins, M. C., & Kram, K. E. (2001). Reconceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental network perspective. Academy of Management Review, 26, 264–288.
As the “boys of summer” take the field and I find yet another reason to enjoy the view out my Hi-deffffff 1080p digital window. I am amazed that I can actually read “Rawlings” on a Wakefield knuckleball; (http://www.flickr.com/photos/waldoj/126354436/). As you see it is thrown from the finger tips and not the knuckles. As with great inventions, the knuckleball pitch has a number of fathers. The pitcher most associated with its’ use in the majors was Eddie “Knuckles” Cicotte who played from 1905 to 1920. According to baseball lore Ciotte began using his knuckles and switched to the finger tips for better performance. Good thing given what his namesake could have been.
When thrown well the knuckleball has little if any spin thus creating vortices over parts, usually the seams, of the ball resulting in the ball changing directions, including corkscrew, as it travels to the catcher’s mitt. If the pitcher is on, the batter, catcher, and umpire for that matter, level of difficulty increases significantly making the ball near impossible to hit, difficult to catch, and call for balls and strikes. When a knuckleball pitcher is off it can be a short outing for him and batting practice along with a speed workout for the opposition.
As I think of the challenges organizations, teams and individuals face these days, I believe those who have experienced a well thrown knuckleball have wisdom for us all.
“You don’t catch a knuckleball, you defend against it.” ― Dodger manager and former catcher Joe Torre Application – Anticipate where you need to be to receive business because it is not going to come to you in the same way as it has in the past. Worse yet, if you miss an opportunity it may result in advancing your competition.
“I never worry about it. I just take my three swings and go sit on the bench. I’m afraid if I ever think about hitting it, I’ll mess up my swing for life.” ― All-star first baseman Dick Allen Application – Do not let the economy dictate your response rather make the best decision you can at the time and move on.
“I always thought the knuckleball was the easiest pitch to catch. Wait till it stops rolling, then go to the backstop and pick it up.” ― broadcaster and former catcher Bob Ueker Application – Humor is an effective coping mechanism, particularly in stressful times.
“There are two theories on hitting a knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works.” ― famed hitting coach Charlie Lau Application – Conventional wisdom may be of little value in complicated situations.
“If it’s high, let it fly. If it’s low, let it go.” ―Common saying describing how to approach hitting the knuckleball. Application – Have a plan and know the opposition has a say in the outcome.
“For a knuckleballer, a pitch count of 150 is not a problem – unless it’s the first inning.” ― Dave Clark, author of The Knucklebook Application – Versatility is underrated and strengths can be overrated.
“Hitting Phill Niekro’s knuckleball is like eating soup with a fork.” ― Riche Hebner Application – It will take more effort, focus and patience to receive the same or even lower, gains than in the past.
“Knuckleballs suck.” ― Gen Petralli after giving up four passed balls in one inning “nough said”
When life and work collide
I am at the tail end of the Baby Boomers. Old enough to remember Woodstock, the assassination of RFK and the election of Richard Nixon. And the Vietnam War sent shivers through me. Not just because of the senseless deaths on both sides but because I thought guerilla warfare actually involved gorillas. Really big nasty ones. A reasonable assumption given the fact that the war was taking place in a jungle and the soldiers on the nightly news looked fairly beaten up. I used to fear the gorillas would find their way into my room and hide under my bed. Needless to say, many of my childish nightmares included these distant DNA cousins.
So I claim the mantle of Baby Boomer lightly because I am more of a beneficiary than maverick as women moved into the workforce. The women’s movement in the 70’s opened the door for young women like me to have opportunities that my older sister couldn’t even dream about. But to carry the metaphor further, while the door opened, the floor has always been slippery, with very few managing not to slip let alone worrying about bumping their heads into a ceiling whether glass or not. And there is no floor plan for managing a meaningful career and life outside of work. So along with many of my baby boomer sisters, we wing it. To the question, “Can a woman have it all?” the answer can be a qualified yes. For the last 20 years there has been a growing area of interest in Industrial / Organizational psychology regarding the intersection of work and life outside of work. It goes by such titles as work life balance, work life interchange and work life strategies to name a few. The idea and research being that employees will be better employees and better people outside of work to the extent that they find a way to meet both their personal and professional goals. In general the research shows that if the stars align, if your coworkers and managers value your skills and talents, if your life partner shows a faint resemblance to Jesus, and if your children manage not to be high maintenance, then you can probably pull off some semblance of balance if your organization has policies that allow for flexibility, management that provides positive modeling and social support and the spillover between the two areas does not generate a tsunami.
But all bets are off when you or a loved one gets really sick. As I write this, one and a half million Americans have cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that an equal number of people will be newly diagnosed this year and 600,000 people will die. Multiply that number by any number of spouses, partners, parents, children, siblings and close friends and you have millions of people at any one time who are incapable of mentally or physically bringing their A-game to work. Baby Boomers are especially faced with this tragedy. Once again, I am watching women 10 years older than me, blaze a path, who after juggling careers and family for 25 years now find themselves with breast cancer, dealing with their fathers’ heart disease, husbands who are underemployed or lose their jobs 10 years away from retirement and adult children who can’t afford their mortgages or childcare. These women are competent and tough. They have worked hard, changed their company’s culture, demanded an end to sexual harassment and have quietly mentored me and the next generation of women through the minefields that they unexpectedly charged through. But the past 25 years look like a picnic compared to the family issues they face now. After a career of quietly proving their worth, they have to publicly raise a white flag and announce that something has to give which eats them up inside because they have never had to feel like such failures before.
So what role should Industrial / Organizational Psychologists, play as the needs of an aging workforce collide with work? Let me suggests that we foremost rely on our psychology backgrounds. As psychologists we whole heartily agree with the basic dignity accorded to every human being. We know that people desire to be efficacious and self-determined. That people strive for autonomy and competency. People are at their best when they can trust others and believe that they are being treated justly. People want to have hope, experience forgiveness and find meaning in even the most disastrous times. And all this occurs at its best in the context of supportive community. Meeting these basic human needs are even more critical for those who are dealing with illness. These employees want to continue to strive to do their best even when they are facing unknowns. They do not need to be made to feel like they are purposely letting others at work down or that they are shirking responsibility. As I/O psychologists, we come up with research that guides organizations to develop appropriate HR policies to provide employee respite. But we need to prepare managers to treat hurting employees with the dignity they deserve. To grant more grace than reluctantly following an HR policy, to not minimize or forget their tragedy, to avoid developing expectations that simply cannot be met nor make employees feel like they must choose between work and family when there really can’t be a choice. The mission of I/O Psychology is “to enhance human well-being and performance in organizational and work settings.” Yet the work of I/O psychologist has often overlooked the first part and emphasizing increased productivity with the assumption that productive workers will also be happy workers. But look at the mission again, “to enhance human well-being and performance. . .” We do not enhance human well-being in order to increase organizational performance. So perhaps we need to remember that we are psychologists first, offering healing to those in the workplace when their worlds collides and there is no floor plan for the maze they find themselves navigating . And do it without regard to the benefits afforded an organization but because it is the right thing to do.
-Dr. Margaret Diddams