As you progress in your career, you’re going to need more advice than you can get from a single mentor. Just as businesses have boards of directors to provide expert advice on various aspects of the firm’s operations, individuals can develop their own board of directors to provide advice on various aspects of their careers. A single mentor may not be able to provide expert advice on all aspects of your career. For instance, your former Ph.D. thesis advisor can be a wise source of good advice in some areas but lack the needed expertise to advise you about working with your firm’s customers on technical service projects. Thus different individuals can be the best source of advice on the different aspects of your career. Members of your board can help you become more self-aware – particularly of your own strengths and weaknesses.
So how can you establish your own board of directors? Use networking to develop relationships with individuals who can provide you with the advice you need to advance your career in different areas such as scientific knowledge, leadership competence, decision-making skills, etc. They are people who embody the core values and standards you aspire to live up to. The individuals you choose should be people you trust who don’t see you as a competitor.
Value of your board
Chemists who do not recognize their own weaknesses jeopardize their chances for scientific success and professional advancement. Mentors and your own board of directors can call these weaknesses to your attention and help you develop plans to overcome them. For example, early in my career I had no idea that, in my zeal to get things done, I was brusque with coworkers often leaving them resentful after work-related discussions. One of the members of my informal board of directors, after waiting for me to recognize this fault in my workplace behavior, finally spoke up and advised me to “lighten up” before some of my coworkers became reluctant to work with me. Later, another advised me to be careful of my tendency to micromanage and I did so before this became a problem in my workplace. Earlier in my career, another advised me not to neglect my personal life and try to achieve a better work life balance.
Take the initiative in seeking the advice of your board of directors; don’t wait for them to come to you with suggestions for improvement. Instead, ask them how you can improve. Choose the members of your board who have the most expertise in the areas in which you decide you need assistance. Establish credibility by acting on their advice even if you don’t like what you hear. For example, it was a rude awakening to learn early in my career that my coworkers considered me to be overly assertive and unappreciative of their efforts. I took the advice of members of my board of directors and toned done my behavior and made sure to let them know I valued their efforts. This behavior spread into my personal life improving my relationships with friends and family members.
Career derailment occurs when high potential managers expected to advance in their organizations fail to do so. Career derailment is more often caused by an individual’s workplace behaviors than a lack of technical skills. Members of your board of directors can help you recognize if your own workplace behaviors are increasing your risk of career derailment and provide advice to keep your career on track.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.