27 November 2012

Do you need a Personal Board of Directors?

Last week I participated in a well-run board meeting led by a smart woman who knows she benefits from the input of other smart people.  Suzanne, not her real name but a real person, is ready to make some big life changes so she’s calling on her Personal Board of Directors.  She intentionally put her board in place to provide her with guidance and different perspectives as she moves through her change process.

Just like a corporate board, Suzanne’s board has been asked to serve as a confidential sounding board to her as she makes crucial life and career decisions.  Her board’s comprised of current and former colleagues, peers, and close friends who know her, care about her, and have useful points of view. Her board members aren’t famous, nor necessarily influential, but they are knowledgeable, good at brainstorming, and committed to helping her gain insights into her own strengths and weaknesses.

From my experience serving on Suzanne’s board, as well as other boards, it’s key to engage your board members early (soon after inviting them onto your board) and then consult with them on a regular basis, say once every six months.  In today’s world, it’s unlikely you’ll gather your board members in-person. In Suzanne’s case, she is based in Eastern Europe, so she convened her board via Skype and she offered several different time options to meet her member’s different scheduling needs.

How do you create your board? Start by thinking about the type of advice you need and who can provide it. Be sure to include those people in your life who have a history of providing you with good advice, and who you would like to play a greater role in your life.

Keep the process simple. After selecting your board members (8-10 is a good number to start with), connect via email with your whole group at once so they can see who else is being invited to participate. Begin by thanking them for the value of the advice they’ve already given you and then provide background on what you want to accomplish by having a board and finally specifically invite them to participate. Be sure to note that your board members have no fiduciary responsibility for your life, but rather you need something even more important — their wisdom.

Suzanne’s first meeting of her new Personal Board of Directors started with a thank you and welcome message from her and then introductions where each board member was asked to introduce himself and say why he was willing to serve on the board, what he is currently doing with his life and how he’s connected to Suzanne.  Next Suzanne explained in detail what changes she is contemplating and she provided a clear direction for the call with specific questions and a closing with next steps.

There are a variety of ways for maintaining contact with your board, including doing a round of calls once a month with 2-3 board members per month, and/or when possible, visiting board members at their offices or informally connecting over lunch, drinks, or dinner.  One of my tips for keeping up with those I most value is to keep a list of friends I really value, yet don’t connect with often enough, and then weekly reach out, via phone or email, to 2-3 of those people.  Sometimes I send an article I think they might be interested in and other times I just check in to see what they are working on and see if I can be of help.

Do you need a Personal Board of Directors? Who do you count on for guidance and perspective?

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