Are you looking for a simple way to boost your professional development? Consider the value of creating your own “personal advisory team.” The purpose of this team is to enlist support among people you already know, but in a way that is strategic and deliberate.

According to Erika Anderson, a Forbes Online contributor, “The best leaders see success as a group endeavor. They ask for and accept help along the way. Good leaders know they can’t do it all themselves, and that even the strongest person needs support.”

Asking for help is a healthy habit of any leader, and it creates trust and collaboration that pays dividends in many ways. To create your personal support team, begin by identifying the kinds of support you will need and then select at least one “go to” person who can provide it.

Typically, your team members will fall into one of these roles:

Confidant:  This person knows you well and is someone in whom you can confide your unedited feelings (anxiety, fear, jealousy, insecurity, anger, frustration). Your spouse, best friend, or work buddy might be this person, especially if he or she can listen without judgment or interruption. This person will both allow you to vent and help you reflect – especially when you are stressed or in the grip of conflict. A confidant can provide a reality check that others cannot. Remember, however, that this is not necessarily the person who will/should give you advice.  A confidant’s role on your team is to listen and reflect.

Coach:  This person acts as a (formal or informal) professional coach, helping you sort out the range of your experiences so that you can learn from your mistakes and capitalize on your strengths. This person will help you recognize your strengths/competencies, plan both short-term and long-term development strategies, and steer you in assigning priority and context to your development. This person’s role is to guide you along your professional path.

Fixer:  This person tends to see problems in less emotional ways. He or she will see most issues in terms of what is logical, accurate, and expedient. This person’s role is to help you see past personal/emotional reactions, apply processes and tools, and suggest workable solutions.

Mentor: This is someone who has experience in the job you do now – or that you would like to do in the future. A mentor will advise you on how to be successful in your current job and/or prepare for the next one. This person’s role is that of an older/wiser counselor who has been where you are and can help you recognize and address roadblocks. This person can help you navigate job-specific organizational issues, as well.

Although some of these people could fulfill more than one role, avoid overlap. Why? First, adding a variety of perspectives will give you a deeper pool of wisdom. Second, you won’t overburden any one member of your team. You will want to enlist team members in a way that is collaborative, thoughtful, and deliberate (vs. confused and needy). Also, make sure you are clear (to them and yourself) about the role you are asking them to play:

  • To a potential confidant:  “Joan, we’ve known each other a long time and I really trust you to listen. Would you mind if I call you you from time to time to get your feedback on complicated work issues?”
  • To a potential coach:  “Fred, I have appreciated the balanced feedback you’ve given me about my skills and development here at the university, and I would like to ask you if I could depend on you in the future to help me think strategically.”
  • To a potential fixer:  “Lori, could I get your input on a problem I’m facing at work? I would really appreciate hearing your practical perspective on how to solve this.”
  • To a potential mentor:  “Ahmed, I have really come to respect the work you have done in our field. I was hoping we could meet for coffee or lunch every once in a while when you have time.  I’d like to hear your thoughts on what I should be doing to prepare myself for my next step.”

An additional benefit of this approach is that your team members will be more likely to ask you to do the same for them, which will exponentially increase your competence as a leader.