Having advisors is a concept as old as the ancients. An "oracle" was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinion. There are many other well known characterizations: someone whispering in your ear, i.e., a Consigliere (a remnant of medieval times when nobles of a conquered court would make themselves available to the new monarch). King Arthur's Round Table was a focal point of fellowship between knights. As you enter and leave different stages of your career, and as situations in our world ebb and flow, advice and advisors should mix and match your current needs.
In late May, 2009, Goldman Sachs’ top women execs hosted a breakfast for the women who participated in this year’s Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Dina Powell, a Goldman managing director who heads corporate outreach, was front and center since this mentoring program was her idea. In 2005, Dina was an assistant Secretary of State working for Condoleezza Rice and she and Patricia Sellers, a Fortune Magazine editor, conceived the idea.
Below are some nuggets from both this year's Mentee breakfast at Goldman as well as advice from two women I admire in the high tech industry, Ginni Rometty and Meg Whitman.
- Stacey Bash-Polley, co-head of fixed-income sales at Goldman: “Follow the 24-hour rule.” If passion or anger rises over an email, she said, hold off replying until the next day. Be thoughtful. You’ll be thankful the next day.
- Kathy Elsesser, head of the consumer retail group in investment banking: “Form a personal board of directors.” On her board: friends, colleagues, clients and competitors. “I force myself to use my board for advice,” she says. “So I have to slow down, be more thoughtful and make better decisions.”
- Lisa Shalett, COO, Global Compliance: “Stop pulling the plant from its roots.” If you regularly pull a plant to look at its roots — to check how it’s growing, to ask ‘Am I doing this right?’ — the plant is going to die. Shalett catches herself getting in her own way, she says. “You have to free yourself to let plants grow.”
- Ginni Rometty, Sr. VP, IBM Global Sales and Distributions said at the Dubai Women's College in March "Diversity of thinking is the fuel for high performance teams. Great teams are made up of men and women, of individuals with different life experiences and career backgrounds. When teams like this come together to exchange viewpoints and experiences, you get new thinking and innovation." She also encouraged professionals to be 'T-shaped' and stressed the need to have both broad based skills and deep specialist skills to be successful.
- Meg Whitman, at an annual conference of Women Presidents suggested four points
1. When hiring, choose the right person for the right job at the right time. She also encouraged carefully analyzing where the business is going and hire ahead of the curve. But in no circumstance should you leave someone in a job that's not a fit, even if it creates personal discomfort to remove him/her.
2. Focus. Focus. Focus. Know what you do best and do it. Don't try to be all things to all people. "Exclusion is as important as inclusion," she said.
3. The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake. "Be bold and be courageous," as she put it. Don't expect perfection. Hurry and up and fail so you can hurry up and succeed.
4. Be willing to push the edge of the envelope. Try new things and be willing to push for what you believe in, even when there are naysayers.
Who are you listening to and why? Have you thought about forming your own personal "Board of Directors" of wise counselors and advisors - focal points? If you have done so in the past, is your "round table" updated and current? Does it include people that challenge you as well as assuage and support you when you are troubled? Are there heros and newcomers? Is there a dissenter? Is wisdom present? I welcome hearing from you about your favorite pieces of advice and your advisors.