How Internal and External Sounding Boards Make You a Better Leader with Mike Egan

Growing your leadership skills is not something you do in a vacuum...
If you're pushing yourself to become a better leader, you will run into questions that you can not answer...
Acknowledging that you don't know how to handle a situation is a real gift because it forces you to ask questions and find someone who has been through the challenge you are facing...
In this episode of the B2B Leadership Podcast, Mike Egan, Vice President of Customer Success and Integrations at BenchSci, and best-selling author and leadership coach Nils Vinje talked about the ins and outs of internal and external sounding boards - what they are, why they're important, and how to get started.
In this episode...
0:20 - Mike's background - Mike explains his role at BenchSci.
1:12 - Accelerated clinical trials - How are scientists able to run more effective experiments?
2:41 - First leadership position - Mike worked his way up the company ladder for several years.
4:48 - Taking a leap of faith - What convinced Mike to move to a startup and make a career change?
7:58 - Navigating new challenges - How did Mike adjust to managing a team for the first time?
9:36 - Meaningful relationship-building - It's an even bigger challenge managing somebody who wanted your position.
12:16 - Guidance from previous executives - Sometimes what we're exposed to shapes how we show up.
15:58 - Building an external sounding board - What advice does Mike offer for getting started with this?
18:56 - Reciprocating value in relationships - What would Mike advise people to lead with when making connections with other leaders?
22:29 - A memorable promotion - Mike gives the backstory on a previous company he worked for.
29:57 - Mike's advice to himself - What advice would Mike give his younger self?

Connect with Mike Egan:

Learn more about BenchSci at

Learn more about your own leadership style at:


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Have you ever encountered a situation where you ran into questions you could not answer and you didn't know what to do?

That's when sounding boards come in.

Continue reading to learn more about it.

Mike's background

Mike Egan is the Vice President of Customer Success at BenchSci, a hypergrowth Toronto scale-up company working in the pre-clinical R&D space.

Their mission is to help their customers, the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, run more effective experiments faster with the world's most advanced biomedical artificial intelligence.

Accelerated clinical trials

How are scientists able to run more effective experiments?

BenchSci helps scientists run more effective experiments with their AI and machine learning platform. They help them in doing the research to accelerate the timeframe to get them to the point where they're ready to take a drug down the path to production.

First leadership position

How did Mike get into his very first leadership position?

Mike was in the financial space as a high-level individual contributor when their company got acquired by Intuit and then things started to change. During that acquisition process, he started thinking about his career path and his passion for what the next step might be.

Ultimately, he decided to put some feelers out and stumbled on a job in a startup company that was in a very different space where he inherited a team of nine and became a first-time manager.

Taking a leap of faith

What convinced Mike to move to a startup and make a career change?

The learnings and experiences that he would be exposed to once he made the change.

As Mike was thinking about his new career path, he thought about the types of things he would be exposed to by doing this. Since he's moving to a startup environment, he's going to be exposed to understanding what it's like to work and fill in the empty spaces that come with being at a scale-up growth company, where a lot of times roles are not perfectly clear. He thought this might be an opportunity for him to touch other parts of the business.

Navigating new challenges

How did Mike adjust to managing a team for the first time?

Mike leaned on building internal and external relationships. There is a lot of trust that needs to be built because you're coming into an incumbent team.

It was not easy for Mike to build those relationships and trust, especially since one of the people that was on the team that he inherited had been passed over for the job that he ended up getting more than once.

But ultimately, he really leaned on understanding where they were coming from, helping them understand where he was coming from, and finding common ground because it is about building relationships at the end of the day.

Meaningful relationship-building

How did Mike overcome some of those challenges and perceptions of what he was doing coming in?

Mike has always been the type of person that tries to create a structure for everyone to be successful. But those are difficult conversations, so you have to get to a level of trust which takes time. This is especially true in a situation where somebody has not performed at the highest level in their role.

You have to create an open space to have an honest conversation with your team.

At the end of the day, what you're trying to do is ensure the team has everything they need to be successful.

Guidance from previous executives

Did Mike receive any guidance or advice that helped him get through this time?

Mike has always had solid mentors, even solid colleagues that he could lean on as a sounding board that allowed for some of those difficult conversations to happen and be non-threatening.

But is the sounding board an internal or external thing?

Mike says it's both. It all comes down to leaning into relationships that you have with your peers or anyone in the company and finding those places where you can talk about some of those things to get different perspectives and be able to feed that into a larger conversation in the future.

Building an external sounding board

It's a valuable thing to have a sounding board internally and externally. But there's a fair amount of hesitation on some people's minds on how to go about this from an external perspective.

So what advice does Mike have for those who want to start building an external sounding board?

As you develop in your career, you build relationships, you keep relationships, and there's the longevity that comes along with that.

Sometimes it's hard when you're thinking very specifically. But you've got to find those conversations that are going to be meaningful in helping you understand your situation. If you haven't been in a situation before, you have to lean on people that might have been in that situation to help you understand how to think about it differently.

Reciprocating value in relationships

What would Mike advise people to lead with when making connections with other leaders?

When you connect with other people, there's give and take. You never just put yourself in a position to ask for guidance all the time without returning anything in return. And in relationship building, it's a two-way street.

You have to create a relationship where there's give and take where you listen as much as you're asking. Try to find a common ground when you have a conversation with other people. You can't just lead with the ask all the time.

A memorable promotion

Mike shares the backstory on a previous company he worked for that's memorable for him.

He had been managing teams and people for a long time when he decided to go back into a very high-level individual contributor role taking on the company's largest accounts which weren't in a great place.

And in the process of doing that for six months, he was watching a Customer Success team that was struggling. So he asked their CEO if he can help the struggling team. A month later, he was managing the team.

He did not intend to lead the team but the end result was getting to take on an incredible team, trying to help them put a better structure in place and put some positivity into that to create places for them to be successful.

One of the key things from that experience is you have to always raise your hand whenever you identify a problem. You may not have the answer, but you're willing to go try and help find it.

Believe in something bigger than yourself. Leadership is not just about you, the individual, it is about something bigger than yourself. And so is being part of any company, whether it's small or big doesn't matter. It's about being part of and wanting to do something better for other people. The organization as a whole, the reputation in the industry, whatever it is, you can help make it better. But you have to come to the table first and be willing to come up and find the solution.

When you solve somebody else's problem, you're seen as a very valuable part of the picture. And as part of marketing your own leadership and making sure people know you, you have to be known for solving problems. If you become the person known for solving problems, you can write your ticket anywhere and always have opportunities available.

Mike's advice to himself

What advice would Mike give his younger self?

Believe in the process and believe in getting better every day, while being okay with not knowing all the answers.

Be willing to ask all the questions. Be willing to not know the answers. And trust your instincts. Because at the end of the day, you got the role for a reason. Trust yourself in the background enough to know that there's a reason why you're there. And there's something that you are bringing to the table that the team didn't have before.

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