While interviewing for what became my first "real" job, I interacted extensively with the senior leader who was responsible for the final hiring decision. He mentioned that someone on his team was out on travel and could not participate in the interview process, but that I was going to be working closely with her once I started. On my first day on the job I was surprised--and even disappointed--to learn that I was actually going to be reporting to her. I had signed on believing that I would report to this senior leader, who had a Ph.D. in the same field that I was pursuing; instead I was going to report to someone on his team with a different background. This turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career.

I learned so much from both of them, and quickly realized what an advantage I gained with the reporting decision. I picked up skills from her that I likely would have never developed in the same way. By drawing from her different education and experiences, I gained critical insights and capabilities that help me to this day.

For me, this early experience was instrumental in cementing my belief in the importance of seeking out input and advice from a variety of people and sources. In any career and business, one of the most important things you can do is seek feedback. People talk frequently about the need for a mentor, but I'll take it one step further: You need to create and maintain a Personal Board of Directors (PBD).

When you cultivate a PBD you will have a much-needed outlet to turn to when you need guidance and advice. Your PBD will help you improve your performance in 5 important ways by better positioning you to:

  1. Receive unvarnished feedback: It's essential to get real feedback, not just feedback that makes you feel good. People on your PBD will know that you value their input, and that they are there to help. They will then give you the feedback that you need the most to succeed.
  2. Refine ideas: Some ideas are just one small modification away from becoming a massive success. We can become to close to it, though, and not see what others can. Others will look at it with fresh minds and be able to provide insight into how it can be improved.
  3. Learn from others' mistakes. There is no point trying to blindly pave new ground when someone else has already been down that path. We all have failures, but we can limit these by learning from others who have tread before us.
  4. Gather new perspectives. Sometimes there is nothing as valuable as hearing alternative viewpoints and getting different perspectives. By having a diverse group of people to draw upon, you may find a new path, product, or opportunity you had not thought of previously.
  5. You will gain confidence. You will in effect have created a professional and personal safety net when you know you have such a valuable group of people that you can turn to at any time. You will know you have confidants and supporters that will help you when needed, which will give you more confidence to take on big goals and challenges.

No different than a company Board of Directors, your PBD should consist of people that fill different needs that you have. You may need a person or two that provide career counsel. Another that provides input on new ideas you have. Someone that can help you with strategic business and investment decisions. Maybe another that you can simply turn to during times of stress in order to get things off you mind. There are no clear rules for the exact composition of a board, but you will know that types of people you need to include that can help you the most. The goal is not for you to bring your board together all at once--it's for you to have an amazing cadre of colleagues you can turn to at any time for support and advice.

Share your experience below. What surprising person helped you tremendously in your career and would be an instrumental member of your Personal Board of Directors?

Published on: Jul 21, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.