Building your personal board of directors

set up your own personal board of directors

In movies, there are the stars and there are the supporting actors. Journeys, are best experienced with friends or family; at least that’s my take on it.

But we don’t only experience journeys in our personal lives, we experience them in our professional and business lives, too.  Behind every successful person is a group of people – a personal board of directors – invested in their success.

If you can acquire such a group, the effects can be astonishing and in business, your professional network can really take off.  Think of your Board without the safe hand of the CFO or the relentless pursuit for growth by your sales director or CMO.  It wouldn’t be quite the same, would it?

These executives can give priceless industry knowledge and they know the modus operandi of the company; they also know which levers to pull to make things happen in the short and medium term.  But there is an opportunity to give your executives a fast-track pass to even more success – mentoring.

Did you know that employees who receive mentoring are promoted 5x more than those who don’t?

From speaking to many employees over the past 15 years, it dawned on me that the mentor did not have to be a single person but could also be a collective.  Here are some of the benefits of having multiple mentors rather than a single point of contact:

  • More advice. Plugging into a diverse group of skill sets means a wider range of advice and insight.
  • More time. Finding someone to talk to is easier when there are multiple people to contact.
  • More connections. A larger group increases the network of people who can help you succeed.

So how do we go about building our “personal board”?  Here are a few steps in that process:

1. Identify and pick the advisors

This is easier said than done but the golden rule is – pick someone who knows more than you about something you need to know.

Pick an advisor who has overcome the obstacles that face you or perhaps someone who has made the same career move that you are looking to make.  With senior level mentorship, the resounding advice is that three to five individuals is the ideal number.  The group needs to bring you variety but not so large that you struggle to maintain relationships.

If we opt for three, consider a peer, someone more senior than you and a mentee.  OK, the first two are obvious but the mentee – an oddity, right?  Well not really.  Younger people are usually more aware of the things that are “up and coming” and that is an insight you will do well to keep an eye on.  Oh, and they may just remember you when they build the next amazon!

And variety doesn’t just come in age and seniority – it comes in a variety of skills and personalities.  Make sure your personal board of advisors covers all the skills you need to succeed. By being aware of your professional weak spots, you will be able to identify people who excel in those areas.

A final tool in the identification of your personal board is the knowledge that you’re looking for a critical friend, not a buddy. By “critical” I don’t mean nastiness, I simply mean 100% honesty.  Why have people telling you that you are right when they could be telling you the truth?

2. The approach!

Do you remember your first job interview?  Me too!  Most people feel some level of intimidation at this point.  Here are some hints and tips, again garnered from years of speaking to those who have made these approaches:

Warm introductions. Having a mutual connection to introduce you is much more likely to yield the result you want. If that’s not possible research any overlaps or commonalities you have (LinkedIn for all its failures can help).  Use this information to start a discussion.

Keep it simple.  Most people are familiar with the term “mentorship”. There’s no need to say, “Will you be on my personal board of advisors?” Also, make sure the invited party is aware that you are looking for mentor(s), plural.

3. The routine.

A schedule helps with accountability.

Remove arbitrary meetings. There’s no need (or time) for arbitrary meetings. This might mean speaking on the phone twice a year to go through lots of items, or a more regular meeting schedule where you choose to meet once a month for coffee.

4. Get value from each meeting.

Set out to accomplish your professional goals. Use each meeting to advice, and inform your mentor of your recent wins and failures.

The gold is in the preparation.  Show up to each meeting with a clear agenda of what you want to accomplish. The best meetings tend to follow an agenda, create this prior and prep your advisor on what to expect.

Don’t get stuck in a rut!  Meeting in the same coffee shop every time can get stale for both parties. Consider meeting at the new place or take a walk while you chat.

4. Don’t be afraid to end the relationship!

You and your advisors should be comfortable understanding what’s working, what isn’t, and when it is time to quit.

Be honest. The hardest conversations are the ones that need to happen.

Look for new opportunities. If you have learnt as much as you can, do not be afraid to ask them if they are able to introduce you to someone else who can continue to help you grow.

Finally, remember that the personal board is simply an attempt to try and navigate the world of business and personal relationships.  If your chosen board isn’t working, to use the movie analogy that we started with, move on and find another set of mentors, because no one wants a Never Ending Story!


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