Why You Need a Personal
Board of Directors

Sydney Atkins MasonWhy we all need a Personal Board of Directors and how to develop one.

Strong leaders know better than anyone that no one achieves anything alone. A support system is instrumental to achieving team goals, propelling individual career growth, and perhaps most importantly, maintaining sanity.

At a recent Exchange fireside chat, Sydney Atkins Mason, Investment Advisor at Goldman Sachs, shared why her “Personal Board of Directors” has been the most priceless weapon in her professional arsenal. It can be tricky to assemble the right network when you’re not sure what to look for, but Sydney credits her wealth of success to her relationships with three major people – her mentor, sponsor, and coach:

Mentor: Your mentor is the John Keating to your Dead Poets Society, the Socrates to your Plato, the Hagrid to your Harry. A mentor will never dole out the same piece of advice to two different people because to your mentor, you are a beautiful and unique snowflake, with triumphs and challenges that distinguish you from other snowflakes. A mentor helps you to evolve over time. This relationship is frequently a two-way street; the mentor is a catalyst for mentee growth, and mentors get the “warm fuzzies” from helping someone out.

Sponsor: Unlike a mentor relationship, a sponsor relationship is linear; your sponsor will catapult your success–if you play your cards right. Your sponsor can help you move forward in your career by publicly vouching for you, endorsing your skills and strengths, or even open doors you didn’t know existed. This person does this purely because they believe in you and, often, there is no way to repay them. This should be someone you deeply respect and admire, who can become your ally as you evolve in your career. Your success is your sponsor’s success, but be sure you pay it forward and become a sponsor to someone else. Don’t get greedy. You don’t want to be that guy.

Coach: A coach is your sounding board for any seemingly “stupid (functional) question” you have. Need help using the company database? Ask your coach. Having trouble understanding some jargon? Ask your coach. With your coach, all your questions are valid concerns. Your coach is who you rely on for your most immediate and basic job-related concerns.

Look around at who you know today and whether there are people in your midst who might naturally fill these roles for you. Have an open conversation, letting them know why you appreciate their advice and what your ask is, but most importantly, invest the time in developing those relationships. Now go!

From Sports Pro to CEO:
Sydney Atkins Mason Tells All

Sydney Atkins MasonAt this week’s Intelligent.ly Exchange, we were thrilled to bring in Sydney Atkins Mason, Investment Advisor at Goldman Sachs and founder of Synergy Inc. Sydney is truly a Renaissance woman; she has sailed professionally in Europe, won two Women’s Lacrosse NCAA Championships, taught high school biology, and became a CEO when she founded (and later, sold) Synergy Inc.– a sports-focused leadership development program for youths– all by the age of 21.

So how did she do it all? Her energy and zest for life’s curveballs definitely play a role, but she attributes her success to overcoming fear, building the right team, and having a Personal Board of Directors.

Deal with your fears

As a young CEO, Sydney admitted that she made a ton of mistakes, but she grew in spite of these challenges, because she kept her goal in mind. As Sydney said, you can’t sail right into the wind. Sometimes life doesn’t make it easy to progress toward your mark. You’ll need to take risks as a leader, and that can be terrifying, but as long as these risks are optimizing velocity toward your goal, they’re risks worth taking.

Know yourself, know your team

Fireside Chat w/ Sydney Atkins MasonFor Sydney, building the right team was the biggest challenge of being a new leader. She asked herself, “How do you know who you need when you don’t know who you are?” She had to become very self-aware about her own strengths (and growth opportunities) in order to determine who could supplement, not complement, her own style and skills to create the strongest, most diverse team. Success is not defined the same way for every person, and each team member has different values that motivate them to do their jobs.  Your team can’t meet their true potential unless you are able to fully understand and support them.

Personal Board of Directors

No one is successful in isolation. Sydney argues that a successful leader needs three specific valuable relationships:

Coach: A coach provides a working relationship where there are “no stupid questions.” Everything is valid, even questions about where to hang your coat and find pens.

Mentor: A mentor will never dole out the same piece of advice to two different people; mentorships are reciprocal relationships in which the mentee evolves over time.

Sponsor: Sponsor relationships are linear, and the sponsor helps the sponsee achieve career success. The most important part? Pay it forward and become someone else’s sponsor!

Stay tuned for more about the building your own Personal Board of Directors!

Her last piece of advice: Know what you want before you take your first step. People won’t follow you if you don’t know where you’re going.

Rachel WaldmannRachel Waldmann
Content & Community Specialist
@rachelwaldmann