Forming a Personal Board of Advisors
Sofija Jovic is CEO of ProPhase in New York City and a member of the MIT EMBA class of 2014.
Both running a company and being a manager is a unique experience that can be very isolating at times. As a company grows and develops, so do our responsibilities as leaders. Engaging in critical discussions and having a framework in which our opinions are meaningfully challenged to make them stronger becomes a rarity.
As a leader, you can’t really walk into a staff meeting and express serious doubt about a key decision without creating confusion and panic. When you walk into those meetings, your role is to cheer the organization on with confidence. You need to show that you’re 110% sure of your decisions and that, with everyone’s help at that table, you can succeed.
For those of us with scientific backgrounds, this can be a very uncomfortable aspect of the public face of leadership because we base the strength of our decisions on how deeply they are considered and debated. So it becomes very important to build in that function in some other way.
Forming a Dream Team
The solution for me has been to find a team of unbiased advisors who have no stake in the company, but who are very invested in my success. You need experienced executives with nothing but your best interests in mind, and who will always pick up the phone when you call.
While this may sound farfetched, this is exactly what I’ve found in MIT’s EMBA program. I may have come to MIT to gain management knowledge, but I’m also graduating with a dream team of advisors.
You can’t help but bond with classmates as you go through this rigorous and intense program. One reason is that there is zero competition. We’re all here to learn how to transform our own businesses and become better leaders. A big part of that involves learning from each other.
Classmates become a very unique type of cheerleading squad. Given the diversity of backgrounds and depth of experiences here, you can find someone who has been there and done that (no matter what that is) – and they are always willing to help.
For instance, several of my classmates have many years of CFO-level experience and they have graciously offered to look at my company financials when I came to them with questions. They’ve spent hours of their time that you would normally pay dearly for. Their opinions carry a lot of weight not only because they are interested in my success, but also because they are CFOs at prominent companies.
Another example involves an acquisition offer my company received last year. We’ve been approached for acquisitions before, but it was a completely different experience to be able to take that offer to six of my classmates who have themselves gone through multiple acquisitions (on both sides) and ask for their advice.
That advice is unlike anything you’ll get anywhere else. I had one classmates candidly explain exactly why he didn’t think I was ready for the acquisition. That kind of feedback is something you won’t get from a board of directors because they have their own interests in the company. You won’t even get it from your spouse or friends, who see you working 18-hour days and may think it’s a good idea for you to be home more and cash out.
After hearing my classmate’s response, I discussed it with our leadership in the company and we declined the offer. Since then, we’ve pretty much doubled in size and grown our revenue over 40 percent.
More recently, I sought advice from a classmate with a lot of leadership development experience about a high-level hire. The job candidate looked great on the books and interviewed really well, but I wasn’t sold. Something I couldn’t articulate didn’t sit well with me. My classmate – who had nothing to gain or lose in the decision – validated the importance of that gut feeling and confirmed that I shouldn’t make the hire.
A Long-Term Resource
Your classmates only care about your professional well-being. They’ll tell you when you’re spinning in circles or going off track. Their feedback is based on their own experiences, and is only biased with their good intentions for you. That is an invaluable resource that will continue for the rest of your career.
Who gives you unbiased advice? How did you develop your network?