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Published: Tuesday, 4/10/2007

Fire Proof

Three women who found themselves unexpectedly out of work high-powered women who had inhabited executive suites have collaborated on a new book designed to help others avoid similar surprises. In I Didn t See It Coming: The Only Book You ll Ever Need to Avoid Being Blindsided in Business, (Wiley, 2007) Nancy Widmann, former president of CBS Radio, Amy Dorn Kopelan, a former ABC Television executive and Elaine Eisenman, an organizational psychologist and former consultant for American Express, share their tips for shoring up your corporate resources, recognizing red flags and planning a graceful exit strategy, just in case.

Among the red flags they wave: not being invited to the annual meeting (management has no future plans for you); unfamiliar attorneys show up on the executive floor (your company is being bought or sold) and your boss stops approving any capital expenditures (you have lost power).

One of the most useful tips they offer is to organize a personal board of directors to provide you with sage advice that goes beyond what a mentor (who has the job and success you want to emulate) and coach (who will whip you into shape, so you can get there) typically have to offer.

Kopelan suggests drawing up a grid and filling it with the names of people who represent a selection of characteristics, industries, skills and connections, noting that while some could be your friends, they certainly don t all have to be.

Ask yourself: In a perfect world, who would I want on my board? she says.

As a corporation of one, you can call on your board for counsel as often as you feel the need. Whether you pay them or consult with them once a quarter over a gourmet dinner, your board members should be willing and able to provide strategic advice. Kopelan convenes her board once a year, e-mails them quarterly with what she s doing, what she s proud of, any missteps and calls individual members on an as-needed basis.

Your board grid should be a living document, Kopelan adds, noting that it is important to adjust the membership to fit your own changing career needs. It has to be a strategic, well-planned grid, she says.

Worried about asking people for so much help? People are amazingly flattered to be asked, Kopelan says. If they don t like you or your mission, they ll come up with a gracious way to say they can t serve, or they may refer you to someone else.

Another wise tip is to plan an exit strategy before you are shown the door. An exit strategy is far more involved than having a severance package in place. Rather, the authors write, it is a long-term plan that sets a course for your career. If you think continuously about what s next, then you will be far better prepared if you have to make a sudden change. Exit strategies should include upgrading your skills and education, keeping on top of shifts in your corporation and industry and keeping your networks current.

These three women found each other through their own networks and they have all built solid careers Widmann coaches senior media and banking executives in New York City; Eisenman is dean of executive education at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. and Kopelan is founder of Bedlam Entertainment, Inc., a New York City-based conference management company.

Leslie Whitaker Got a problem at work? Leslie Whitaker, co-author of "The Good Girl's Guide to Negotiating," would like to hear from you. Send Leslie an e-mail at leslie@ctwfeatures.com or write to P.O. Box 11156 Shorewood, WI 53211.

Copyright CTW Features

By Leslie Whitaker

CTW Features



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