Many of us are convinced that we have to fly solo and figure everything out on our own, the hard way - that having a support team and advisers is only for the powerful or wildly successful.
This is foolish and naive. You don't have to do it alone. In fact, you shouldn't. Because what the truly successful have figured out is that it's never too early in your life or career to surround yourself with good people.
I used to fall into this trap myself, and sometimes I still do. But recently, I finally realized that people are more than willing to help us accomplish our goals than we may think. In fact, they want to help. The hard, challenging, and vulnerable part is this: It's our job to ask for their help.
If you're working on something that matters deeply to you, whether it's inside or outside the office or classroom, you need a team. That is, a team of personal advisers, although you can call them whatever you want.
What is a team of advisers?
Your team is basically what a board of directors is to an organization - a small, but important group of professionals or experts that guide decision-making and provide critical input and advice.
For you, these are people in your network who you can reach out to now (more on this below), and then seek out their advice once you've established a relationship. You'll likely talk to some of your advisors on a weekly basis via e-mail, phone or Skype, while others you'll connect with monthly or an as needed basis.
The key is to stay in regular, ongoing contact with your team, sharing updates, developments, appreciations, setbacks and, achievements. This is how you get them vested in your success.
Why should you have a team?
- For an objective point-of-view: There's a reason why top CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, and athletes work with coaches: Objectivity. Your team can see from an objective and unbiased point-of-view what you're likely to miss or overlook. Often, ever our family and friends can't play this role for us because they're too close and the stakes are too high.
- For well-lived expertise: If you select your team carefully, many of your advisers will have been there, done that on issues that matter to you - or, they're currently living it in their profession. They have the experience and battle scars to show it. The benefit is that this is a chance for them to provide perspective, help you avoid the same mistakes they made, and alert you to opportunities you may be overlooking.
- To expand your network: Going outside your comfort zone and current circle of peers can help you build your network and, in turn, your influence.
Who should be on your team?
To determine who should be on your team, first identify what you're trying to accomplish. This could be jump starting your career, building a new business, or doing something else that matters to you.
From here, list the areas where you'll likely need additional help and expertise (i.e. fundraising, marketing, design, etc.). Initially, I recommend keeping this to three to five key areas. This might translate to the same number of advisers.
Once you identify where you need support, it's time to start building your team.
How to create a team of advisers
First, evaluate your current network - LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends, current or former professors, family friends, etc. - to see who could nicely fill the void in your gap areas.
Then, ask for an informational meeting with your potential adviser. Explain what you're doing and why you're seeking their help, as well as what type of support you need from them and what this might look like (i.e. weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly calls).
Let's get this out of the way: Not everyone is going to accept your request to be on your team, and that's okay. They key is to not to focus on the people who say no. Instead, focus on getting to yes.
Once someone agrees to become your adviser, always treat this relationship with the utmost care, tact, and professionalism. Be generous with your "thank yous" and create as much value for them as possible.
It's important to note that over weeks, months, and years, new advisers will enter the picture while others may exit. What should always stay firm is the respect you have for them.
What a team of advisers is not
- People you ask for jobs or solicit leads from: A job, contract, or new business relationship may come from your interactions with your adviser, but don't actively seek it out.
- An exhaustive resource: Your advisers are busy people. Only use them as needed. The test: If you can answer your question with a quick Google search, don't reach out to your adviser.
- Your therapist: Over time, you're likely to build a close working relationship with your advisers. You'll discuss difficult things about your career trajectory and the things that drive you or hold you back. But it's important to know where to draw the line between an adviser and a friend.
Demonstrate to your advisers that you're someone worth investing in, and they'll expect and extract greatness from you.