I was having coffee recently with a former colleague and we got on the topic of a personal board of directors. The concept of a personal board of directors is based on, just as you might assume, that of an organization’s board of directors. Reframing your networking goals as building a personal board of directors is a fantastic way to think about making and developing new connections.
Aside from the explicitly assigned roles and duties, some of the most important things a board does is bring diversity to the decision-making process and advise the executives based on their own expertise. Thus, a key aspect of selecting people for such a board is diversity. You will also want to select strong leaders, rather than people who tend to be followers; creative minds, disagreeable personalities, and people who like to play devil’s advocate can offer great perspective.
Within Your Own Organization, Find:
- Someone to hold you accountable and be honest with you. This may be your boss or manager, but sometimes you just don’t have that relationship with your boss.
- Someone more experienced—possibly an executive; this might be the typical mentor who has been where you are or is perhaps currently in the position you want in the future.
- Someone less experienced—an intern or someone brand new to the company.
- Someone outside of your department, area of expertise, or geographic area—brings you a very different perspective on the company as well as access to their resources, knowledge, and connections.
Outside of Your Organization, Look For:
- Someone who is well-connected across many industries and vocations.
- Someone in your industry but not in your line of work.
- Someone in a similar role in a very different type of company (whether it be because of size, location, culture, industry).
- Someone who you can talk to about your hardest day and they will listen.
- Someone creative that inspires you to take risks.
How to Invite
Be patient with the process—it isn’t going to be quick or overnight and allow it to grow organically/naturally. You may not currently know any of the people listed above, even as acquaintances. Unlike an institutional board of directors, you don’t have to officially appoint your choices; this gives you the freedom to consult who you want when you want, change your mind about the frequency with which you do so, and an ability to be selective about the issues you bring to each. On the other hand, it may be a nice gesture to do so explicitly with a few—perhaps you will inspire them to create their own personal board of directors (advising them in return) or start a small group forum for developing innovations and sharing best practices.