Sounding Boards – Saving You from Yourself

by | Mar 25, 2019 | Professional Growth

“Pride deafens us to the advice or warnings of those around us.”
John C. Maxwell

Your recent performance review with your new supervisor did not go well, and you disagree with her evaluation. Do you risk damaging a new relationship by pushing back?

A new career opportunity looks like a perfect match for your skills, yet you worry if may be too good to be true. What are you missing?

Can I bounce an idea off you?

Seeking good counsel is a strength, not a weakness.

Individual judgement is effective when the stakes are low, and your expertise is high. We are trained and expected to make these calls. When the decision has greater risk and impact, we can benefit from reaching out to people we trust to dialogue on the best way forward.

So, who are these trusted advisors? Sounding boards are people with whom you discuss ideas. They believe in you and are honored to be in your inner circle. Similar to an organization, think of this sounding board group as your personal board of directors.

Notice the diversity of gender, occupation, and expertise each of these individuals offer. Your board offers general as well as specific advice to meet your needs. They may or may not be aware of each other – they serve you.

Who is on your personal board of directors?

Who is missing?

Once the right people are in place, effective sounding board individuals practice a coaching model – listen, ask, and don’t tell. Advisors promote your self-discovery, not dependency, through open-ended questions and their experiences. This process builds your leadership perspective and ownership to execute.

During my professional career, I have been blessed with many trusted advisors. Last year I had a long-time confidante pass away and following his funeral I reflected on his impact to my life. I listed fifteen examples of John’s wisdom, including rescuing my career several times from office politics and challenging my thinking on key business decisions. John saved me from myself.

We were not always on the same page. Years ago, I was considering running for our local school board in New York. John’s advice was that the opportunity would build my leadership skills and public policy perspective, yet the public scrutiny could damage my career. I reflected, thanked him for his perspective and made the decision to be a candidate.

My three years on the school board were humbling and one of my greatest leadership development experiences. John respected my willingness to take a calculated risk, and I recognized the need to own my decisions and avoid dependency on my advisors.

Three keys to an effective personal board of directors:

Choose your advisors to include a blend of individuals who share your expertise as well as perspective on where you need development. My suggestion is to include people with strong strategy, financial, and human resources skill sets.

We can fall into the trap of relying on sounding boards that mirror our personal qualities (age, gender, ethnicity, point of view, etc.) While comfortable, this is not how we grow. Learning from individuals who are on a different path enables us to embrace new ideas and more effectively build relationships.

Leaders excel when they are independent — not dependent. Beware of advice givers who are not great listeners – they believe their role is to tell you what to do. Resist the allure of cheerleaders who offer platitudes such as “I know you will do great” without providing constructive feedback. Both of these individuals are equally unhelpful – you need good listeners who tell the truth.

Wisdom is about give and take. When you engage others for their guidance, you should be asking yourself what you are doing to invest in those who need you. Who seeks you out when they are stuck?

All my best,