What does it take to get a seat at the table?
This first episode of seven-part podcast series Across the Board.
In the summer of 1998, about two months after the launch of Netflix, Marc Randolph found himself ill-prepared to pitch for $4m worth of funding from Institutional Venture Partners (IVP). He was even more ill-prepared to answer the questions posed by their analysts over the following days. His figures didn’t add up and he knew it.
However, IVP still agreed to invest the full amount in the little known start-up. This wasn’t due to Randolph’s charming personality or his persuasive slide deck; it came down to one thing. In that room with him was Reed Hastings. Hastings was a known entity in Silicon Valley. He had a track record for making people money and they trusted him. It was for this reason, and this reason alone, that the phrase ‘binge-watching’ has been added to our vernacular.
I was reminded of the above by a recent CNBC article that was shared with me. The article talks about the importance of having a personal board of directors to help you in your career. We’re not all lucky enough to have a Reed Hastings in our corner but we can still benefit from having key people in our lives and careers to help steer us in the right direction at those crucial moments.
The relationship that Randolph and Hastings have is a complex one; it’s a blend of sponsor, mentor and friend, and it’s this blend that enabled them to trust one another enough to have hard-hitting conversations such as, “Marc, I’m losing faith in your ability to lead the company.” That’s a tough conversation to have and to come back from but, in this instance, was exactly what was needed for both the success of Netflix for and Randolph himself.
Who can you rely on to give you that kind of feedback? I wonder how DGL’s share price would be faring now if Simon Henry had a sponsor or mentor to better guide his thinking and to help him remain humble.
Leaders with an internal imbalance of ‘p’ power and ‘s’ power (personal versus social) tend to make decisions with blinkers on and see other people as objects which often leads to their personal downfall (Enron, as an example). It can also lead to an environment of low psychological safety for teams and employees so it’s vital to have someone who can remind us what’s important and not to get caught up in our own hype.
Building a team around you that compliments your skills is an invaluable resource. If we’re lucky it can happen organically but I wouldn’t bet my house on it; so that leaves it up to us to shape this for ourselves.
I’m not talking about seeking one-sided relationships for your personal benefit. All relationships have to be genuine or they simply won’t last. It’s best to be up front and honest.
In my experience, as busy as people are, they are only too happy to meet over a coffee and feel honoured to be approached for advice. In fact, recently a client of mine, Mary (not her real name . . . her real name is Claire) recently reported that she reached out to a person she knows on the fringes, shared with her what she wanted to achieve in her career and asked if this person would act as a mentor for her. The woman was so delighted to be approached with such a request and, in that moment, a new relationship was born. If you don’t have a mentor and think you can benefit from one, go seek one out. You’ll be surprised how willing people actually are.
I was glad to see the article mentioned the importance of having a close friend in your corner. Life can get very busy and what often lacks attention is our friendships. Our friendships, our relationships with other, are essential for our emotional health and wellbeing. In fact, research shows that those people with a large network of friends and family have fifty percent less stress in their lives. That’s huge!
So, if I had a client who posed the question: How can I build my own personal board of directors? I would ask her the following questions:
Cillín Hearns is owner and director of Results Coaching, a personal and professional coaching service. His clients come from all walks of life and across many industries including the fitness industry, the government sector, the industrial sector, IT consulting, and Banking. He has several years direct experience working as an IT consultant and has led up to 12 teams of over 140 consultants.
The views expressed in this article do not reflect the position of the IoD unless explicitly stated.
Contribute your perspectives and expertise on an area of governance to the IoD membership and governance community. Contact us firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.