Friday, August 10, 2018

Who’s on Your Personal Executive Team?

Being a leader doesn’t end when girls leave Girl Scouts! In our new monthly series, Changing the Face of Leadership, we explore how Girl Scout alums can continue empowering themselves by changing the game at work and in their communities.

A strong support system can lift us up and help us thrive. Girl Scout alums know the power of having a squad to back us up: the supportive, girl-led environment of Girl Scouts boosted our confidence as well as our team-building skills. Our troop leaders helped us overcome challenges that stood in our way. And as the Girl Scout Research Institute has found, Girl Scouts are more likely than non–Girl Scouts to have adults in their lives who help them pursue their goals and think about their future—a determinant of future success.

The need for a female-centered support system becomes crucial as we grow into our careers, especially for women wanting to advance into leadership roles. But not every woman is enthusiastic about seeking the help of other women; some may think that because most C-suite roles are filled by men, we should be approaching them—those who hold the roles we aspire to. And what about Queen Bee syndrome—that is, when women aren’t willing to help other women get ahead? Or the principle of mixing business and friendship—we might fear damaging a personal relationship if it overlaps with a business relationship and the latter doesn’t work out.

In truth, positive female relationships go hand-in-hand with the solidarity and resilience needed to break through institutional barriers along our leaderships journeys. Female leaders uniquely understand the obstacles that women face in their professional development; in fact, many women report they learned their most important leadership lessons from other women. And it’s reassuring to see more studies demonstrating that Queen Bee syndrome isn’t as prevalent as we might think:

So what’s the best way to leverage the collective power of the female go-getters in your life? Borrow from the corporate executive team model and create your own career advancement team. There’s a reason an executive team—which may also be dubbed the leadership team or senior management at your company—makes sense for organizations, and that’s all the more reason you should make the model work for you! Just like any business, you need a trusted team to ensure the “business of you” is successful. 

Your support network can be as expansive or as intimate as you want it to be, but here are four roles that the CEO of You, Inc., should on-board first: 

Chief Strategist

No matter where we’re at on our career journey, talking to someone who’s navigated the roads—be it a mentor, a friend in the industry, or even someone who wound up pivoting out of the industry—is crucial to our career growth.

Just as a chief strategist aids a CEO in developing strategic initiatives, you need someone to help you think about the big picture. Decide what you want from this relationship: do you simply need a sounding board for your ideas, or could you use help in creating your career roadmap? Having clarity around where you want to be—and getting sound advice on how to get there—will help you make smart, confident decisions as you climb your career ladder.

Chief Brand Officer

Remember how reassuring it felt to have a Girl Scout troop leader who knew our interests and encouraged us to pursue them? In your work life, you need someone on your team who really knows your “brand” and encourages you to put your stamp on roles and work projects.

Your personal chief brand officer is a friend or colleague who understands your strengths—and your weaknesses. Wondering how to position yourself for a promotion? Your CBO can offer creative suggestions for aligning your unique skills with those valued by your company or industry. For those who wrestle with self-doubt, your CBO can offer a thoughtful outside opinion that can help you confidently project your best you.

General Counsel

Just as you need someone to help raise you up, you also need someone to keep you grounded. When you’re figuring out the pros and cons of a particular career play, your general counsel is the “but have you thought about...” voice who empowers you to think critically about your next move. This person is especially important when you encounter hurdles in your career; by asking practical questions and probing deeper into the “whys” of your next move, your general counsel can safeguard you from making hasty decisions that could negatively impact your career.

Through the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, we learned to seek out challenges and overcome them. And one of the most challenging—and most fulfilling—things we can do as adults is ask for constructive feedback. Make sure you have a trusted friend or colleague as your general counsel; you may not always like what you hear, but you can trust that the person in this role is looking out for your best interests.

Chief Operating Officer

If you want to succeed, you need to do more than talk the talk—you need to walk the walk, and you need a friend on your executive team who lives that mantra as well. Your chief operating officer should hold you accountable when you say you’re going to update your resume, or send you online course suggestions when you vow to expand your skillset. If your COO is in the same industry as you, they may also play a connector role and introduce you to potential mentors, collaborators, or new friends with similar aspirations. 

This Type A friend understands that you need to make time for your personal to-do list, and they’ll gently remind you that You, Inc., won’t run as efficiently as it could if its CEO isn’t making time to catch up on sleep or manage stress. 

Remember that these relationships are most successful when they’re reciprocal: make sure you return the favors for those on your executive team, whether it’s by playing the role of a good listener, offering perspective and advice when you can, or checking in with helpful reading material or even just a reassuring word if you know they’re having a demanding week at work.

In other words, be sure to live the Girl Scout Law if you want to maintain the amazing executive team you’ve built! Because no matter your aspirations or where you stand on the corporate ladder, this solid network will be the troop you need to help you blaze key trails in your career.