Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Do You Have A Kitchen Cabinet?

“Kitchen cabinet” is the term used to describe an unofficial group of presidential advisers.  First used commonly during the U.S. presidency of Andrew Jackson, the phrase pops up periodically since making use of the knowledge and wisdom of one’s friends in strategic places is a common and expected leadership practice.

President Obama developed a business-specific ‘kitchen cabinet’ to address jobs creation.  He consults with GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, AOL co-founder Steve Case, and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, among others.  Ronald Reagan’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ was a group of about a dozen conservative, wealthy Los Angeles businessmen who first became his advisers as he sought to become governor of California, and later, president.  George W. Bush was criticized for having a ‘kitchen cabinet of one’:  Dick Cheney.

As a leader and a professional, it makes sense to have a variety of trusted colleagues with different areas of expertise that we can consult from time to time that will help us make better decisions and increase our chances of success.  But too often, we get locked into talking with the same people we see day after day:  our own teams, whether they are leadership teams or project teams or our employees.    We probably also have regular blogs or news sources that we rely on to inform us of new trends or developments in our industries.

But that doesn’t take the place of conversation:  Being able to pick up the phone and call a colleague to pick their brain about what’s working in their company, or what they might have heard about how something we are considering may work.  Finding out if a problem that ywe are having is something they may have encountered.  Pondering their input regarding a decision or new direction we are considering.  Having a small group of trusted advisers helps us take into consideration points of view and information we may not be aware of, enabling better decisions.

How can you develop a trusted group of advisors like this?  

As someone who has worked a number of places, I keep in contact with old bosses and others I’ve worked with.  “Never burn your bridges” is a piece of advice my mother gave me as a teenager and it has proved to be invaluable.  I can email or call up colleagues I know well and who know me well to ask their advice or bounce ideas.  It’s a great way to keep in contact as most people like to be helpful.

Another way to develop your own kitchen cabinet is through professional organizations.  Every profession has at least one association.  If you join it and get involved with it – not just attend meetings once in a while – you will develop some excellent contacts.  Making an effort to develop good relationships means volunteering your time, contributing your hard work and knowledge, and making appointments for coffee or lunch once in a while to connect on a more personal level.

In my own business, I’ve had the opportunity to develop marketing ideas, hone presentations, and learn new skills from my own version of a ‘kitchen cabinet’.  My advisers are in a variety of industries and positions.  A few of them have become personal friends but most remain professional colleagues.  I find they are unique resources and support in many ways, especially when it comes to industry issues or professional development.  Others may have a better ear to the ground if I am researching or contemplating a local issue.

You probably have friends and family you consult with on personal matters.  Develop the same for your professional life.  Leaders don’t isolate themselves.  But they don’t consult with just anyone either.  Who makes up your 'kitchen cabinet'?
Advisors that are different from you can give you new perspectives.
"Good talent is a mixture of experience and willingness to learn."

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