Build your personal board of directors

Building your personal board of directors for your life and career can boost your business know-how.

We have a culture that values self-reliance and most people try to answer most questions themselves. Yet this burden of personal omniscience is heavy. And when it comes to leadership, management, business ownership and other careers, it’s also limiting. Why? Because, generally speaking, the world of work and business is in flux, and will be so for the foreseeable future.

Today the most successful corporate giants rely on their advisory boards to help spot new opportunities and potential pitfalls. Now you can have your own advisory board: a personal board of directors. Your board won't have fiduciary responsibility for your life, serve on committees or raise funds for you. But they can offer something more important – wisdom. In forming this group, you can tap into wisdom you normally would not have access to and you will develop a support network and grow your career.

Who is your personal board?
Your board is a small group of objective people who know your strengths and weaknesses, but are not necessarily tied to the emotional outcome of your decisions. The type of people you should pick are circumstantial and should depend on what you do or what you’re hoping to achieve. A good place to start is with your closest confidantes. You need to think broadly about what you need and once you have your first brainstorming session, you’ll immediately see how beneficial a board can be. These people will help you think outside of the box and give you advice and ideas you wouldn’t have had on your own.

Form your board

  • Contact six to eight people who you feel you could learn from and/or have the wisdom you are seeking. The board should be a diverse group that can pose the big questions that need to be asked.
  • Start by reconnecting with two or three people whose advice has made a difference to you. Explain the value of the advice they’ve already given and ask if it would be OK if you checked in with them every two months to get their perspectives.
  • Consider having a “clarifier” who asks clear questions, a “connector” who leads you to other people, a “challenger” who will question your plans and intention to help you act boldly, a “supporter” who is a master listener and a “wise elder”, somebody who has done it all in your field, made the mistakes, learned from them and triumphed. Draw on the wisdom of people with diverse perspectives who think differently than you do.
  • This board is all about win-win benefits, so you must be willing to give as much as you receive. Consider ways to add value to their lives and their work.
  • When you know who you want on your board, go after them! Email or phone is best. Be direct and clear in explaining that you intend to create a Personal Board of Directors, and that you’re inviting them to serve on your board because you respect their judgment.
  • A good mix will include those with professional experience, industry experience, age differences and familiarity with or knowledge of your goals and abilities.
  • Keep it informal by having telephone discussions instead of in-person meetings. Set a schedule. Approach your prospective members and arrange to start meeting at least every two months. But if there’s a critical decision to make, don’t hesitate to be in touch right away. Be sure that they know how much you appreciate their time and attention.

Temember that this is your life, business and career. If someone on your board offers advice that doesn’t sit well with you, you have to be able to honour your vision and trust your gut. Always process all of the information and advice you’re given, but honour your original goals and trust yourself. In the end, only you know what’s best for you.

Karl Smith is a Cape Town-based author, speaker and founder of Business Networking South Africa.
Contact Karl Smith:
Tel: 071 444 2210