Category Archives: Decision-Making

In The Turn

How to Create a Personal Board of Directors and Accelerate Your Career

The meeting was over, and I returned to my office feeling extremely satisfied with the results. Then I heard a knock on the door and looked up to see a co-worker who had come to gently set me straight.

As it turned out, what I thought had been a successful meeting regarding a major decision instead had left others confused about my thinking and concerned about what was ahead. I thought I had done a great job of communicating and inspiring, only to learn I hadn’t taken the time to provide some much-needed context. In my eagerness to drive the decision, I had left out valuable details to earn buy-in.

We’ve all had situations when our self-awareness gets lost in self-denial, Or in my case, lost in my own POV. Realistic self-assessment is incredibly difficult. We’re either too easy or too hard on ourselves, and neither is good.

  • When we’re too easy, we begin to think our way is the best and only way, and we disregard the diverse views of others. We become overly confident, take chances we shouldn’t and think we’re more effective than we really are.
  • When we’re too hard on ourselves, we question every decision. We’re more hesitant than we should be and don’t trust our instincts enough. We need too much validation, don’t feel worthy of respect and suffer from the imposter syndrome.

Either way, we are not leading at our best and those around us suffer as a result.

The biggest problem: Getting feedback

It takes hard work to strike the right balance and have a fair appraisal of ourselves so we can play to our strengths while continually striving to improve our weaknesses.

The biggest problem is we often don’t get the feedback we need to inform our self-perceptions. It’s challenging for others to tell the truth or share less than flattering observations with us, especially if we’re in a position of power. We often don’t get accurate, honest comments about how our words, actions and intentions are perceived.

One of the best ways to gain regular, meaningful feedback is to put together a personal board of directors – a team of mentors who will tell it like it is when we need to hear it most.

Wendy Davidson, the president of U.S. Specialty Channels for the Kellogg Company, introduced this idea to me several years ago, because she believes her personal board has been invaluable to her highly successful career. I couldn’t agree more.

Benefits of a personal board of directors

Consider some of the countless ways a personal board can advance your career. They can:

  • Offer practical advice about how to tackle new opportunities to increase your chances of getting key decisions right the first time
  • Serve as an informal coach who can provide wisdom about challenging situations or interactions with others
  • Share subject-matter expertise to expand your understanding on a specific topic
  • Point you toward resources and tools that will further your development and learning Introduce you to people to help expand your network
  • Hold you accountable for changing an attitude or behavior impacting your professional performance
  • Offer diverse points of view and different life experiences to challenge your thinking and broaden your view of the world
  • Provide “big picture” perspective about your career as you consider job opportunities or career moves

How to form your board

The concept of a personal board of directors isn’t new, and most leaders I know see it as a great idea. But many never give the time and energy it takes to form and take advantage of such a board. So, how do you actually pull it off? It’s not as hard as it seems, but it does require a bit of thinking and planning. I’ve mapped out a simple process with these three steps to establishing a personal board of directors:

1. Assess your biggest needs

Start by listing of your five biggest challenges/needs — things that are potentially holding you back in your career or impacting your work/life balance. Some examples:

  • Unfamiliar with practical financial principles that impact my strategic thinking abilities
  • Not managing my emotions effectively under pressure
  • Not enough knowledge of front-line operations
  • Working too late in the evenings on a regular basis
  • Feeling confused and overwhelmed by complex decisions

If it helps, turn these challenges into simple “goal statements,” such as:

  • Develop a working knowledge of the most useful financial principles for my role
  • Keep my cool more often when I am facing deadlines

2. Identify prospects

Once you have a better sense of your needs, think about who could help you most. Consider asking people who:

  • Are in a position you aspire to have someday
  • Come from another company in your industry (that you don’t compete with)
  • Come from an entirely different industry
  • Are experts in an area you need to learn more about
  • Can feed your spirit and encourage you to invest in yourself
  • Are willing to be brutally honest to help, not hurt
  • Will always have your best interests at heart

List each prospect’s name, organization, area of expertise, and which one or more of your five goals can they help you with. Make sure you have current contact information for each prospect.

Make as long a list as you like, but an ideal personal board has 3-5 members. You’ll need more prospects since everyone may not be able to help.

3. Make the ask

Once you have your list, take some time to write a short script or a few bullet points to guide your conversation so you can articulate your thinking clearly and succinctly when you call each prospect.

For example, you’ll want to explain why you are forming a personal board of directors, what is involved if someone agrees to join and how each person could help you with one or more of your five opportunities for growth.

Here’s an example of what you could say and why you need to say it:

  • I’ve been evaluating my career, identifying my strengths and my opportunities for growth. I’ve set some specific goals for myself that I believe will further my career. (establishes that you have done your homework)
  • I greatly admire what you have accomplished, particularly ___________ (name something related to one or more of your five areas for growth). This expertise and your career success would be invaluable to me. (explains why you are asking them)
  • I have decided to form a personal board of directors and would love to have you as a part of this team of super mentors for me. (clarifies your plan of action)
  • What that simply means is I would like to connect with you once every few months to ask for your advice or seek your expertise when I know it could make a big impact on me. I would like to treat you to lunch or dinner, or we could arrange to meet by phone/video call, too – whatever is easier for you. (tells them how much time would be involved on their end)
  • I would like your help as I continue on my developmental journey. Would you be willing to be on my personal board of directors? (makes the ask)

Start with your top prospects and work your way through your list, ensuring that you create a board with diverse strengths and expertise. Make notes of the feedback you receive to help shape how you bring your board to life and what their preferences might be for how you engage with them. Even prospects who cannot take the time to join your board now will likely have some advice for you.

TIP: Don’t fear ‘the ask’

One piece of advice Wendy shared with me is not to be afraid to ask. Many times, we worry that asking for help is a burden to others. Wendy reminded me that looking to others for advice can be a compliment. You’re saying, “You have something that I can learn from, and I’d like you to be a part of my career moving forward.”

Next steps

A few suggestions on next steps:

  • Once you have secured the agreement of and feedback from your board members, send them a thank-you email or hand-written note.
  • Look ahead on your schedule to identify times you can connect with them in person or by phone/video. Make a note to reach out to them several weeks in advance so they can make time to meet.
  • Prepare for each meeting so you can give them an overview of what’s going on in your career. If you have a specific request, let them know the topic in advance so they can think about how to help.
  • Always send a thank-you note any time your board members help you. Let them know the result and the impact they have made.

If you want to take a deeper dive on this topic – to hear the full story about how and why Wendy created her board, and how she used this throughout her career – read Chapter 3 in my book, Leading Through the Turn.

I am proud to say Wendy is on my personal board of directors, and I am on hers. Her impact on my leadership journey has been profound, and it is an honor to help her whenever I can. Imagine how your personal board of directors will impact the trajectory of your career. Don’t be afraid to ask!




Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

Setting Smarter Priorities: 5 Steps for Creating More Margin In Your Life

It happens innocently enough. Your boss hands you an extra assignment that turns out to be a major undertaking. Or a colleague takes a leave of absence and you’re asked to absorb his workload. Or you agree to chair a youth sports league fundraiser because you feel guilty you haven’t been that involved lately.

Before you know it, you’ve got too much on your plate with too little time to get it all done. While you could do a beautiful job on any one of these obligations, the total soaks up every last bit of white space in your life, leaving you little to no margin. You feel anxious and overwhelmed. You worry you may no longer be able to keep up if something doesn’t let up. And you know if a problem arises, everything could come unraveled.

If this frenetic pace sounds all too familiar, you are not alone. Good leaders are in high demand, and chances are you’ve been handed things or asked to lead because you get things done.

It’s good to be a willing leader – and being asked to lead affirms our “achiever” status. But it’s not good when the volume impacts our ability to produce good thinking and solid execution. It’s even worse when the stress jeopardizes our health, our state of mind, and negatively impacts our outlook on life.

We need more margin in our lives, especially as the demands and the pace increase. That’s why it’s important to develop discipline – and a system – for capturing, evaluating and prioritizing the responsibilities you take on. When you are intentional about thinking through what you do and why you’re doing it, you are in a better position to manage your schedule, minimize your stress and maximize your joy.

A Different Approach I’ve been guilty of taking on way too much for a lot of my leadership journey. As I have learned to become a destination leader with a journey mindset over the past several years, this has gotten better. Recently, I decided to try a new approach to evaluating my workload and setting priorities with the goal of creating more margin in my life.

So far, it’s really working, and I am far happier with how I am handling the projects I’m leading. I have more energy and focus around my work and greater clarity about what’s a need-to-have vs a nice-to-have. Most importantly, I have created more space for family and more downtime for myself. Here’s how it works.

Step one: Evaluate your responsibilities Start by making a master list of everything you have on your plate for the next 90 days. Write each item down on the left-hand side of a page. Include both work and personal responsibilities – I group them together so it’s easier to see that I’ve considered all aspects of my life.

Across the top of the page, write the following criteria, creating a column for each. Then working your way down your list, rank each criteria for each responsibility on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Impact – How big an impact will this assignment make? Is it going to prevent or solve a major problem? Will it help to further a key organizational goal?
  • Growth – Is there an opportunity for me to grow my knowledge, skills or expertise?
  • Relationships – Who cares about this project? Who was the requester? Who else is engaged? Who will be impacted by my efforts?
  • Time – How much of my time is really required? Will one quick hit do it, or is continuous engagement needed? (NOTE: Be realistic; we tend to underestimate how much time something will take to get it done well.)
  • Role – How important is it that I take the lead? Am I uniquely qualified, or could someone else just as easily take this on? Can I play a supporting role? Can I delegate this as a development opportunity to someone else?

Here’s an example:

Step two: Set your priorities Tally up your scores for each responsibility, putting a mark beside your highest scores. Look for a natural break point in the scoring to divide into two lists:

  • Top priorities – projects that scored the highest because they are more important to you across multiple criteria;
  • Secondary priorities – lower-scoring projects, which could be considered “nice to have” but not “need to have.”

If it helps, consider your work and personal items separately so you can ensure responsibilities from both parts of your life make the top-priority list.

Step three: Protect your time Once you know your top priorities, review your weekly and monthly schedule. Identify ways to protect your time so you can focus on these more important projects. For example:

  • Block out time each week so you are assured of having uninterrupted thinking and work time.
  • Mark “do not disturb” on your calendar periodically to prevent meetings and calls from creeping on to your schedule.
  • Set a time when you will reply to email and calls in a batch so you are not constantly interrupted.
  • Recapture time for your priorities by cutting down on things like social media or binge-watching Netflix.

Be sure to block time for important family obligations, connecting with friends and investing in your personal well-being, such as health and mindfulness activities. This is part of the margin you want to reclaim for your life. If you don’t intentionally create time for these things, they’ll fall off your schedule very quickly.

Step four: Prune your list Now that you have a better feel for how much time you need to devote to your top priorities, consider your secondary priorities. Do a stop/delegate/wait analysis:

  • What can you stop or say “no” to doing altogether?
  • What can you delegate to someone who can move it forward for you?
  • What can you push back on your schedule to tackle another time?

As you ask yourself these questions, think about what you’d rather be doing when you create more margin in your life. Use that vision as motivation to prune more things.

Step five: Take action Finally, implement your decisions as soon as possible. Here’s a tip: If you’re finding it hard to say “no,” try saying “not now.” I have a friend who often says, “I have a high interest in that project, but low availability.” Your primary goal is to protect your time for the immediate future, so you can:

  1. Accomplish your top priorities; and
  2. Create more margin in your life for connecting with family/friends and investing in your personal well-being.

Additional Resources for Getting Your Life More Organized Do you fear your tendency to be disorganized is contributing to the problem? Ask yourself if either of these statements describes your life:

  • You have half-done to-do lists scattered throughout your life, yet you can’t seem to get anything meaningful done.
  • You try to file things away mentally instead of capturing them in a master list. Neuroscience research tells us you can only hold four or five thoughts in your head at any one time, which explains why we tend to forget so many things we intended to do.

If these statements are true for you, you need to put “getting more organized” at the very top of your priority list. Here are some additional resources:

  • Getting Things Done, a best-selling book by David Allen, sets out a tried-and-true approach for capturing, organizing and taking action on your to-do list.
  • Keep your master list in one place so you can access it wherever you go. Consider tools like:
    • Evernote
    • Wunderlist
    • – Using the Notes function on your phone
    • – Keeping a written journal – there are many popular products on the market such as productivity planners, Maruman or Moleskin journals

Here’s to a more organized and rewarding 2018 that allows you to focus on your top priorities while creating greater margin in your life.

Any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you – email me at



Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

From Unproven to Unprecedented: How to Get Buy-in For Something That’s Never Been Done Before


Doing something new and different sounds exciting. But it’s almost never easy. In fact, it can be downright lonely as you work to convince the world of the beauty and wonder of your great idea.

It’s always harder than it seems in real life. Whether you’re launching a startup or creating a new approach to a persistent problem, it takes more than a passionate speech to get buy-in from influential champions for your cause. If it’s new, it’s unproven. And risky. And no matter how much you believe in it, your passion will only take you so far.

So, how can you win over customers, influencers and decision-makers for something that’s never been done?

I had the privilege of building a company from scratch, so I’m very familiar with the inevitable challenges of launching something new. And my good friend Lauren Wesley Wilson founded ColorComm, a business community for women of color in the communications industry. So, we sat down recently to talk about what it takes to go from unproven to unprecedented success.

Here are 6 takeaways from that conversation you can apply to your own launching pad.

1. Meet an unmet need – This is one of the best places to start when thinking up new concepts, so look for the opportunity to position your idea in this way. Show how your solution delivers something unique, or how you can do it better, faster or cheaper than an existing solution. Lauren saw that women of color lacked opportunities in the communications industry. While supporting women in business isn’t new, focusing on women of color is. Lauren developed a vision for ColorComm, shared it with others and generated a lot of interest for meeting an unmet need.

2. Adapt and evolve – Very rarely does a successful idea look the same from launch to maturity. Most go through numerous revisions and adaptations, responding to market dynamics and customer feedback. We certainly have pushed – and still push – Mitchell Communications to evolve to serve our clients’ ever-changing needs. You have to, or you’ll get left behind. Once she had ColorComm up and going, Lauren learned the importance of listening to her supporters to find ways to improve the organization. “At the beginning, I was focused on realizing my vision,” said Lauren. “But over time, as I listened to others, I heard them bring new ideas forward. For example, they wanted resources and a community to help them when they faced challenges in their careers.”

Lauren used that feedback to develop new services for members that led to more business opportunities, advanced programming, and a talent initiative.

3. Earn trust – Overcoming the skepticism of others is one of the biggest obstacles when launching something new. Demonstrating your credibility and reliability is particularly difficult if people don’t know you or haven’t worked with you. They’re taking a chance on you, not just your product.

David Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor, created the trust equation as a powerful way to illustrate what it takes to earn trust:


Each of these factors is critical to earning trust, but reliability can be particularly important if you don’t have a long track record. If that’s the case, start with a smaller ask that has a quicker payback and then deliver an early win.

In the early stages of launching her big idea, Lauren said she focused on showing others they could count on her, that she could do the work, and that she had staying power and determination.

“Many new organizations are not sustainable,” said Lauren. “People wonder if you’ll be around next year. You have to show some results as quickly as possible to give them confidence to invest in you for the long-run.”

4. Move with speed – In the early stages of a project, move quickly to seize opportunity, especially when the competition is stiff. This requires you to be available, responsive and accessible.

In the early years of Mitchell Communications, we often turned projects at breakneck speed – sometimes overnight, if needed. This was a competitive advantage because our competition, while more established, was too big and too slow.

Lauren said that type of agility also helped her build an effective team, earn sponsorship support and recruit top executives for her board.

5. Deal with “no” – There are those who simply won’t share your confidence in your idea, and that can be hard to take. That’s why founders and innovators must be resilient and thick skinned.

“You’re not going to appeal to everyone,” said Lauren. “Accept that fact from the beginning, and instead concentrate your efforts on searching for your audience. It can be scary to champion an untested idea, but you have to put yourself out there.”

If you are authentic and your passion shines through, the naysayers won’t get you down and your confidence will spread. “This will win others over,” Lauren said, “and trickle down to your team.”

6. Take smart risk – It’s tough to know when and how to take risk when starting something new. So much is on the line. Lauren’s experience shows you must consider several things:

  • Your intuition – Follow your gut. There are times you will just know it is the right thing to do.
  • Balance your emotions with reasoning – There are times you will want something so badly. But some of the most important factors — like timing, audience, resources – aren’t there yet. In that case, you must be patient and wait for a better opportunity.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail – Fear of failure is one of the biggest reasons people don’t take risk. But you can’t fixate on it. Lauren learned to think of failure as a catalyst for growth. “If we fail, how can we recover quickly, learn from our mistakes and never make them again. We’re hurting ourselves and our organization if we don’t learn. That’s just how you grow.”


What’s the best piece of advice a mentor ever gave you?

Focus. Don’t get caught up in distractions or try too hard to prove yourself. Concentrate on doing what is most important. You know what you need to do. Do it. — Lauren Wesley Wilson



Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

How to Make the Toughest Calls of Leadership [BONUS]

The buck stops here. How true. President Truman knew it. And all great leaders embrace it. We can (and should) empower others to make decisions whenever possible. But leadership will always involve making the toughest decisions.

Having the authority to make decisions is one of the most rewarding parts of leadership, but actually making the tough calls is seldom easy.

Think about a time when the odds were stacked against you and the risk of failure was high. You didn’t have all the information you needed, yet you had to make a decision. Your team was waiting, and your organization was depending on you to provide direction. What do you do?

When we face the most complex and critical decisions as a leader, we need to recognize the fears and emotions that often hold us hostage and then lean into three powerful “must-haves” for great decision-making.

Recognize the Enemy

A wide range of emotions can cloud our judgment and hold us back when we find ourselves in those crossroads moments that we’d often rather avoid but must face as leaders.

Difficult decisions can make us feel:

  • Overwhelmed – A tidal wave can hit when the potential consequences of a decision we face are significant, we are unprepared, or we feel like we are in over our heads.
  • Anxious – Becoming overly stressed often leads to poor decision-making. The more anxiety we feel, the less likely we’ll have a clear enough head to make the best choice possible. Neuroscience shows anxiety suppresses the activity of pre-frontal cortex neurons, which play a pivotal role in cognitive functions such as calculating risk/reward, problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Indecisive – We sometimes feel paralyzed by too little or too much information. We might be unclear about which criteria we should use to help us decide. Or we might see multiple solutions that all look good.
  • Cautious – We’re hesitant to share information about a decision with others because we’re not sure things are going to turn out the way we want. We’d rather stay quiet, hedge our bets, and leave people to wonder what we decided and why.
  • Pressured – We feel pressured to decide in a certain way by others who have a stake in our decision.
  • Challenged — Similarly, no matter what we decide we know we’ll experience push-back from those who will disagree with our choice. Perhaps they will even challenge us publicly and inappropriately.

Fear rests at the heart of all these decision-making roadblocks. These fears don’t just make decisions harder than necessary, they cause us to question our instincts, project self-doubt and feel out of control. We’re then more prone to make poor decisions, and we risk losing the respect we’ve earned from others – something no leader wants.

So how do we avoid that?

Lean into the Fundamentals

Great leaders are willing to embrace uncertainty as a part of the journey, but they don’t walk down that road unprepared. They lead with authority and confidence because they know and practice the essential fundamentals that help them overcome their fears and make sound decisions.

Here are three must-haves of decision-making that have helped me deal with my most complex and challenging leadership choices:

  1. Process – Establish a tried-and-true decision-making process to help you make and manage any type of decision, but particularly more complex ones. This doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. It means you’ll have guideposts and guardrails to move you forward and that you’ll make exceptions by design.
  2. Clarity – Learn to manage emotions that cloud your thoughts during decision-making so you can think clearly and rationally. The process will help with this, but you also need to do the hard work of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. This is an area where other trusted leaders can hold you accountable and help you see when your emotions are stifling your common sense.
  3. Consistency – Create patterns in your decision-making that minimize surprises and build trust. Having a standard process and managing your emotions will help you determine in advance how you will handle certain types of decisions so you can create greater consistency in your leadership.

What if you don’t have a process, or you’re looking to improve the one you have? Well, glad you asked.

I’ve created a free download that includes a detailed decision-making process, as well many of the benefits you will enjoy when you have this type of framework in place. Take a look. And here’s to better decision-making in your future.



Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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