The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “Who do you go to when you need career advice?” is written by Keri Gohman, president of Xero Americas.
After nearly a decade at Capital One (COF), I received a job offer that was impossible to ignore: a position at one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies in the world. But it would require leaving an organization and a team I loved and moving my family of five cross-country—not an easy decision.
For advice, I turned to not just one person, but a handful of people who have helped me at pivotal moments in my career. As I’ve guided my career like a business, I’ve created a board of directors to support and direct my key decisions. I didn’t set out to create a board, but over time, I realized that’s what I had created—and that board has made a huge difference in my life and my career. Comprised of a handful of people from different backgrounds and parts of my life, they’ve all given me advice at various times in my career when I’ve really needed it, from job changes to difficult situations with co-workers or bosses.
When I was leading small business banking at Capital One, I was working with my team on a big project that was going to require significant investment. I leaned on my board for advice on how to gain organizational support with the CEO and other key stakeholders. They helped me figure out what kind of talent I would need, who to have in the room with me so the CEO could have confidence to back me up, and offered advice on whether I had interpreted the market in my proposition in a way that would resonate.
Here are the people I have on my board:
I have come to learn that keeping these relationships open can be hugely helpful. Former bosses (the good ones) know your strengths and opportunity areas in a way that many others don’t. Given your unique history, they are also often the folks most willing to be candid about your development.
I once had a big job opportunity that I really wanted crop up, so I sought advice from a former boss. He was honest with me, and helped me understand that the role didn’t play to my strengths. He shared the reasons why, and it turned out he was correct. It wasn’t the right opportunity, and I realized few others knew me well enough to understand where I’d shine.
Those in your industry
Your peers will be particularly insightful when it comes to seeking advice on a potential employer or a new market strategy. If they don’t have the insights you’re looking for on a particular company or space, they will know someone who does. These types of connections are really important, as it’s inherently valuable to be able to speak to people with an outsider’s view of you and your competition.
The ability to leverage the insight of an industry insider is also extremely valuable when big news or regulatory changes emerge, as they can give you their take on how things are shifting.
Recruiters are fabulous networkers and give amazing perspective on jobs and how you come across as a professional. Particularly as you get more senior, it’s important to cultivate relationships with recruiters because they can help evaluate your career background, see how you compare to other talent, and tell you what’s missing. You should always pick up the phone when they call.
For example, one of my board members is a recruiter, and has become a good friend. She once told me that before she got to know me, she thought I came across as too formal. But once she saw past my suit, she felt she was able to really connect with me. She advised me to try and let this more human part of my personality show earlier when meeting new people. I relished this advice knowing I might not have gotten it from anyone else.
Close colleagues can also help give you guidance on situations or blind spots before they become a problem. Early in my career when I was leading my first team, my management style wasn’t resonating because I hadn’t yet had experience in this area and was used to being an individual contributor. My colleague had relationships with some of my team members, and let me know, in a safe space, that things weren’t going well and I needed to adjust my style and approach. I made investments in my management skills through training and spending time addressing these concerns with my team directly. Thanks to my colleague’s connections and their knowledge of the organization, I was able to course correct before something minor became a larger problem.
So how do you create your own board? Find people you respect and admire, and reach out to them. Cultivate relationships with them, build rapport over time, and always be willing to offer your support and resources in return. You and your board will have a meaningful and positively impactful relationship.