Why I Created My Own Advisory Board–and You Should, Too.

By Jennifer McCollum on January 2, 2019

Two women leaders talk with one another in a trendy office setting.

In this reflection series, our own Jennifer McCollum shares a candid, behind-the-scenes look at her own leadership journey. In part one, she put her Inner Critic in check to take the next step in her career, and in this second installment, she explains how creating a trusted network of advisors has helped her make critically important decisions—purposefully.

One of my biggest discoveries in 2018 was around the importance of carefully selecting, engaging and nurturing critical trusted advisors.

It was a year of intense transition. After more than 20 years in the leadership industry, I took a self-directed sabbatical to help define exactly what I wanted out of my next role. During this time, I actively pursued and relied on an informal advisory board to help me clarify job opportunities against my personal purpose and vision.

I knew I wanted to continue to lead, manage and grow businesses in the leadership space. But there were many ways to do that: through publicly traded companies; start-up ventures; and established medium-sized organizations. So, I actively pursued all three, relying first on regular meetings with a core group of women, who I refer to as “Visionistas”. Together, we are a group of peer advisors who for more than 10 years have gathered regularly to support each other to clarify and aspire toward specific life goals. This year, we used the book Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, to guide us.

This approach provided a clear path to what would be most meaningful at this stage in my career: a mid-sized company where I could be a C-level leader, ideally a CEO. I called on a different set of advisors to learn more about the private-equity markets; and a third set to help me navigate the terms of job opportunities.

Through this process, I learned the priceless value of the network I had built over decades and now relied on throughout my transition. For the first time in my life, I truly embraced and enjoyed a pause in my career, confident that the perfect role would emerge because I had clarified my intention and put a plan in motion, with a circle of advisors supporting me.

When I started my role as Linkage CEO, I spent several months engaging our Board of Directors, executive team, clients, partners and vendors. Slowly, I developed an expanded set of trusted advisors, whom I now call my “CEO Success Circle”.

Most importantly, I approached several of them personally to ask if they would be willing to play specific roles in my circle of trust, because I know I can’t do it alone. Some are fellow CEOs, who can commiserate with me about the challenges (and sometimes loneliness) of the role. Others are thought partners who can guide me in specific areas I’ve not led before; and still others are coaches who can hold a mirror up to my own leadership behavior and gently steer me. I have learned that actively managing this group of partners is a significant investment of time and energy, but it is a critical part of my job, and also exceptionally rewarding.

Linkage has spent 30 years studying leadership, and across the last several years we have emerged with a data-driven perspective on what the best leaders do. These leaders are able to identify a personal why–their motivation that drives them to push toward a defined objective–and they translate that into an organizational what–a broader organizational vision and message that their teams can rally around. They make five commitments to themselves and their organizations:

  • They inspire those around them to join the pursuit of a common vision;
  • They engage every team member in meaningful activities;
  • They innovate products or processes;
  • They achieve results by creating appropriate structure and clarity; and
  • They become more self-aware in their ability to transform, coach and influence people.

We call this Purposeful Leadership®, and what I love most about this approach is that it acknowledges we all naturally excel in some leadership commitments and can grow in others. Personally, I am focused on the engage commitment, as I work with our team to redefine how Linkage can best impact the world’s leaders through our research, assessment, development, consulting and coaching.

Linkage is passionate about working with leaders who want to create lasting impact and positive change with their teams, in their organizations and in society. That is perfectly aligned with my purpose, and there is no place I’d rather be CEO. In this role, I will continue to rely on my CEO Success Circle as an invaluable resource on my own leadership journey for support, insight, and inspiration.

On to 2019!

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Posted in Executive Development, Leadership Development, Women in Leadership

About Jennifer McCollum

Jennifer McCollum is CEO of Linkage, where she oversees the strategic direction and global operations of the Burlington, MA-based company. She has 20 years of experience building and leading businesses in the leadership space, with a focus on leadership development, assessment and analytics. Her area of expertise includes bringing analytic rigor to critical talent decisions by linking leadership behavior to corporate performance outcomes.
One comment on “Why I Created My Own Advisory Board–and You Should, Too.
  1. Karen says:

    Wish there was a group like Linkage for senior leaders that are 25-35 years old. Very small group & we’re hard to find, yes – but we’re out there… I’ve been to CMO forums (I’m a 27 year old senior leader in marketing), and although we relate re: corporate challenges, it’s different.

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