For some, going it alone is a badge of courage. For others, it is a way to demonstrate independence and show the world that they don’t need any help. And for many people, it’s a belief that we “can’t” or “shouldn’t” ask for help and “bother” other people. Women, in particular, are often guilty of this. We find it hard to ask for help, concerned that we are being a burden and afraid that we will be seen as weak or not having our act together.

Yet, few would disagree that all successful people had help along the way. In fact, the ability and willingness to seek out support and tap into the collective wisdom and experience of those around you is a leadership skill. So, what gets in the way of doing that and how can we do it more effectively?

When working with my coaching clients, this topic often arises as we focus on development areas and look at ways to be more effective and fulfilled at work and at home. I challenge them to proactively find mentors, guides, trusted advisors, buddies – whatever you want to call them – who can be their go-to people. These are the people in our lives who we can reach out to when we are unsure, frustrated, excited, stumped, determined, confused, or just in need of a listening ear. You may have heard of the concepts of a Personal Advisory Council, Sounding Board, or Circle of Support. These are all the same – a small group of individuals you identify and enroll to be your personal support network.

When deciding who to include in your circle, it’s important to think beyond the usual suspects. There’s nothing wrong with getting advice from your spouse or significant other, turning to your parents to get a bit of their wisdom, talking to your boss, or having coffee with your friend at work who is always willing to listen. They may very well be right for your circle of advisors, but widening the net will ensure that you have a rich and diverse group of people to support you. A few ideas from my own experience and others:

  • Find a reverse mentor – Listening to an author, Linda Rottenberg, on NPR today, I heard a great suggestion to think about reverse mentors. That is, someone who is more junior than you who can offer a different perspective and may have stronger skills and experience than you. Rottenberg, an expert on entrepreneurship and author of “Crazy is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging when Everyone Else Zags,” shared that one of her mentors is 20 years younger than she and is her go-to person on anything related to social media.
  • Think about who will be honest with you – One of my first managers is someone whom I have in my circle of support. I learned a ton from him and developed a great fondness for his sometimes ornery manner. He is someone I can count on to be honest with me, not sugar-coat, and be willing to say what I may not want to hear.
  • Remember that wisdom comes from life experience – My mother-in-law grew up in Mississippi and went to work at a very young age, never graduating from high school. Yet her wit and wisdom, what my husband and I called Mississippi Logic, was always on point. Even though she passed away several years ago, her sayings like “Nothing hurts a duck but its bill” or “Some people don’t believe that a black cow gives white milk” still come to mind when I am faced with a dilemma or need to open my eyes to a new perspective.
  • Reach out to those who had an impact – One client of mine remembered a college professor who was instrumental in shaping his thinking and pushed him to take on new challenges and grow. Another thought of a good friend of her dad who is a successful businessperson and someone who was always supportive of her.
  • Find someone who sees the world differently than you – Many of us tend to gravitate toward people we are comfortable with and have things in common with. When it comes to building your support network, however, diversity is key. Include individuals who have different life experiences and viewpoints and who can challenge your perspective and interpretation of a situation.

Who will you recruit to be in your circle of support?
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