MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Describe one make or break moment in your career–how did you navigate it? is written by Margo Georgiadis, president of Americas Operations at Google.
The best way I’ve learned to navigate pivotal moments in my career is by actively cultivating a personal board of directors. The most successful companies and nonprofits have strong boards to help guide them, so why not create our own? The needs are quite similar. As leaders, it’s helpful to have independent advisors that know us well and can provide guidance when we face challenging situations. From my experience, the best advisors help in three ways: encourage you to look at the problem or opportunity from multiple angles; help you balance the tug of the short-term with important long-term priorities; and ask the tough questions you need to know to reach the best solution.
Cultivating a strong group of personal directors takes time and commitment. For me, it took more than 10 years to find a diverse group that could give me sage advice when I needed it most. I’ve found my personal board in a wide variety of places. Some are people that I have worked with–both peers and mentors–and others I’ve met through serving on professional boards. I was drawn to them because they were great listeners, and always seemed to know how to ask questions that would expand my thinking. Others are people I’ve admired who are a step or two ahead of me in their own career trajectories. Getting to know them allowed me to learn more about the tough choices they have made to maintain or change their paths, as well as insights from how they handled the inevitable misstep or two along the way.
Making the commitment to build these relationships is challenging given our often over-stressed lives as professionals, wives, mothers, and community leaders. However, it’s important to take the time to keep your personal board in step with your thinking. You don’t need to meet every month or even quarter, but you do need to have a meaningful discussion for a few hours at least a few times each year. These discussions build the mutual trust that is essential for the role to work for both of you. This trust provides the comfort for your advisors to ask the blunt questions that help you uncover hidden truths about yourself and any blind spots potentially clouding a clearer way.
As you become more senior in your career, it can be thin at the top–it’s harder and harder to get unbiased and direct feedback when making decisions. You want people who will speak truth to power. Say no to any “yes men or women” on your personal board. When you face a personal crossroads you need honest advisors. For example, I’ve used my personal board at each one my major career changes: when I moved from being a partner at McKinsey, to my first big line role at Discover, to moving west for Google, and whenever I was trying to find better ways to balance work and family. Each time, my board pushed me to ask the hard questions:
● Was it the right time to take on the next challenge?
● What was compelling me or holding me back?
● Did I have the tools and advisors in place to make the leap successfully?
● What did I want for myself?
When it was the right opportunity or the right decision, I felt much more confident in taking the leap or making the trade-off knowing I had the guidance and support of my mentors. I am proud to serve on several boards in an official capacity, but it’s the ones you won’t find on my resume that may have the most significant impact.
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