Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Has His Cabinet in Place -- Do You?

As Barak Obama begins his first days in office, he'll be surrounded by trusted advisers.

Before he makes a decision, he's likely to consult members of his Cabinet. He'll probably ask their opinions on everything from foreign policy to domestic issues. In the end, of course, the final decision will be his. But he will make that decision based on input he's received from people he trusts and respects.

So, who is in your Cabinet?

You may think you don't need a trusted group of advisers. After all, you're not the president of the United States, and may believe that it's a luxury reserved for world leaders.

Not so. In fact, no one may need a Cabinet today more than the average worker.

That's because times are tough. It's hard not to be pessimistic about the future, or at least concerned that your portfolio has taken a huge hit and no raise or bonus is on the horizon. But with a Cabinet in place, you not only can do a better job of keeping difficult times in perspective, but you can have in place people to advise you when times are bad -- and good.

Who should be in your Cabinet? Well, let's consider who Obama has chosen. Some descriptions that come to mind: Smart, savvy, experienced and diverse. His advisers are not wilting lilies -- and Obama has reportedly encouraged them to be true to themselves and offer their unbiased opinions.

That's exactly what you're aiming for with your Cabinet: Smart, savvy, experienced and diverse. Now, let's look at how you put a Cabinet together:

* Make a list. Think of those you've worked with in past and current positions, or others you've met through various professional functions. For your Cabinet, it's best to steer away from personal friends and family members. You want people who are more concerned with what's best for you professionally, rather than just becoming emotional about what happens in your career.

* Don't rush. Putting together your Cabinet won't happen overnight. You need to carefully consider each person, and the strengths and experience they can offer. And, you need to be able to offer something in return. You're not a monarch -- this is supposed to be a relationship that is beneficial for them as well. Perhaps you'll be a Cabinet member for them or be able to offer valuable contacts or help when needed. If you don't think you can offer reciprocal benefits, you may need to consider someone else.

* Who has your back? In the working world it can often be tricky to know exactly who to trust. A person may say they have your best interests at heart, but actions speak otherwise. When looking for a Cabinet, think about who has covered for you at work without whining about it. Or, the person who gave you a heads up about a new project that you might like or the person at another company who alerted you to a great new job that was opening up. Your Cabinet members should be supportive of you, and show they have your best interests at heart.

* Always assess your Cabinet strength: If you put a Cabinet together and then discover that someone isn't really contributing, it's time to cut your losses and find someone else. Don't be ugly or unprofessional about it -- just tell them that you've learned a lot and probably won't need to be calling on them as much in the future. Remember: You never want to burn bridges with professional contacts.

* Be realistic. Your Cabinet isn't going to do your work for you. That's still your responsibility. They're in place to give you advice, to act as a sounding board and to give you their honest opinion whether you're doing the right thing or headed for disaster. Don't abuse their talents and don't take them for granted. Make sure you always offer something of value in return, and you and your Cabinet will go far in the coming years.

What are some other considerations for a career Cabinet?

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Anonymous said...

I love this idea, and it's a great metaphor. One thing I would say is that a powerful cabinet for your career will be a manageable size. If you have too many people on your list, you will not have time to build a relationship with them. So, for example, don't consider a large Twitter network to be your "cabinet" - too many people try to think broad instead of deep when it comes to this, but taking time to edit and be intentional with your list is the key to building something you can actually use!

Anita said...

Excellent suggestion! I can see your point about how you can't rely on something like Twitter to really give you the kind of information that's really useful for particular situations. You need people who can give you the time and attention you need.

Anonymous said...

Anita -

I like the concept of a "cabinet" or "personal board of advisors."

It is key to focus on the reciprocal nature of the relationship - this is a natural offshoot or extension of networking, afterall.

I'm not sure I agree that a friend or family member should not be included in your cabinet. For many people, no one "has their back" or knows them better than a family member/close friend. Of course, you don't want your entire inner circle to be people too emotionally involved to offer unbiased advice.

Another interesting comparison: President Obama's cabinet includes former adversaries. How many of us would include those members in our own cabinets? Something to think about!

Anita said...

The reason I don't think a family member or close friend should be part of this "Cabinet" is because they may be afraid to either a) tell you the hard truth for fear of hurting your feelings or b) be able to distance themselves enough to give your an objective, professional view.
That said, I do agree that you need personal advisers in your life. I think they offer you important emotional support, and they also know you well enough to point out when they feel you're going astray from who you really are.
I just think that a professional Cabinet serves a different role from the personal group of advisers.
I especially like your suggestion about having adversaries on your Cabinet -- it's what I meant when I said Obama's group was diverse. You just want to make sure that even though the opinions might differ, they do have your best interests at heart.
Thanks for adding your thoughts.