From Sales Manager to Chairman of the Board

By Heather Baldwin

Boards of directors play a critical role for CEOs and presidents. They set goals, provide feedback and offer support to help company leaders steer the organization in a desired direction. As a sales manager, you can get the same support by creating your own board – an inner circle of friends and advisors who can help you steer your career in the most advantageous and profitable direction, says Brian Azar, author of Your Successful Sales Career (AMACOM, 2004). A personal board of directors, says Azar, can keep your career moving forward, help prevent burnout and assist you in solving personal and professional challenges.

Who should be on your board? Ideally, members should be people who can remain on your board for life – so choose the members carefully. Azar says your board of directors might include a doctor as a health resource, a CPA for tax advice, an attorney, a religious leader, a business coach, a child care specialist, a Webmaster and an executive in a similar industry – but not a competitor.

Once you have formed your board, sit down and make a list of the ways your board can assist and support your success. Azar says some examples include offering advice regarding advancement in your current company, relocating your family, handling a problem employee, financial planning and the health of your marriage. “Your board members will be a rich resource to you in many ways so long as you speak openly and truthfully with them and are willing to listen to their specific advice and feedback,” says Azar. Keep in mind, however, that while your board can offer guidance, the final decision must always be yours.

Finally, you must decide how often you want to meet with your board. The answer will be different for each sales manager. For some, monthly meetings are just right, for others, quarterly meetings are optimal, and some prefer to meet with their board just twice a year. The frequency of meetings should be appropriate to “the velocity of issues or decisions you are making,” says Azar. Regardless of how often you meet, however, make sure you compensate each participant, either through a trade, a small gift or favor, or a small fee, depending on the participant’s preference. It’s worth the investment, says Azar, “as the value of their feedback will be returned many times over.”