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Article

Five Steps to Your Personal Board of Directors

Contributed by CEO Coach Henna Inam

Are you stuck in a career rut? Do you wish for more coaching and feedback but don’t get it in your work environment? Do you want to learn to better integrate work and life? Do you wish you could tap into others who have complementary skill sets to you for advice? A personal board of directors may be just what each of us needs to help us with perspective and keep us on track with our goals.

As I did my Personal Leadership Review, one of the conclusions I came to is that I am a rather independent person and don’t always seek others’ advice. I like to have a challenge and figure it out on my own (as many a frustrated former boss would attest to).

As much as I love to help others, I have a really hard time asking others for help. To address this, I decided to go about recruiting a Personal Board of Directors for myself. With this goal in mind, I did something highly uncharacteristic of me. I asked some people who know about having a personal board to help. Here’s what I have learned from them.

Here are five steps to consider to create your Personal Board of Directors.

1. Start with the end in mind. What are your goals? For me, they are to grow my company, to keep learning and growing as a leader and entrepreneur, and to write the book I’ve been talking about for what seems like forever. I want my board to help me accomplish these goals. Friends I consulted with who are in their corporate careers use their board to get advice on the right next career move, to get feedback on strengths and weaknesses, to get perspective on industry or business issues, to discuss how to navigate company politics, or discuss work and life integration concerns. One friend, a senior executive with Turner Broadcasting, said that the different perspectives and unexpected questions she got from her board really helped her clarify her next career path and also how she was going to navigate work life integration.

2. Pick the skill sets needed. Based on your objectives, identify specific skill sets you’re looking for on your board. Ideally you want between 5-7 people. What areas of expertise are you looking for? For me, it’s someone who is an expert in professional services (e.g. consulting), an industry that is new to me. I would be well served to have someone who is a published author and can give me perspective on the process and watch outs. I also need someone who does a lot of public speaking as I grow my business in this area. I was recently talking with a Partner at a professional services firm. She has several seats on her board. She has a peer who is at her level who is a sounding board for issues they face in common in the firm. She has someone who is fairly senior to her who is a true sponsor for her in her career advancement. She has someone who has navigated the off-ramps and on-ramps on the road to becoming a Partner and can guide her. Other than specific knowledge, it’s important to find people who have great skills that you’d like to become better at. For example, navigating through work politics, influencing skills, and relationship building are skills that become even more important as we rise through the ranks.

3. Make Your Board Diverse. We are often tempted to fill our board with people who we like. We must certainly feel comfortable and trust the people we want to invite on our board. However, it’s equally important to look for real diversity of thinking and talent.  The idea is to learn and grow from experiences others have had. We want people who think differently than us. If you are creative and want to jump into new endeavors (that would be me!), you want to have someone on your board who will ask you the questions that get you to plan properly. Get gender, racial, ethnic, and thought diversity to widen your perspective. Find a mix of people, some who can help you lick your wounds and cheer you up when you’re down, some who will give you a kick in the pants when you need it.

Make sure that the candidates you’re considering are willing to give you candid feedback and you create an environment where they can feel comfortable doing so.

4. Make the Ask. This is often where I got stuck. Our inner critic says, “Well, why would someone want to dedicate their precious time to help you?” I followed my advice to listen to my inner coach instead. I was surprised that people were flattered to be asked. It’s a great boost to our ego’s when someone sees that we have something of value to offer to them.

My recommendation is to meet with people you want on your board in person to make the ask. Tell them exactly why you are asking them to be on your board. You see a strength they have. Be specific about where you need their help. You can tell them how often you’d like to meet with them or whether it will just be ad hoc. You can ask if you can reciprocate or how you can be of help to them. I was surprised that people were flattered to be asked. My guess is that’s the reaction you’ll get too, so just make the ask.

5. Follow through. Keep a journal of your questions and issues for your board and also their feedback. Writing down what we’ve learned helps us embed the learning. Also let them know what action you took based on their feedback. We don’t have to do what they have suggested, but we certainly want to share with them what we did do and how their perspective helped our thinking. Another important part of follow-through is thanking your board and helping them know that they are valued. Make sure you take the time to acknowledge their contributions in ways that will be uniquely motivating to each of them. Take time to deepen the relationships with them and certainly offer to reciprocate in ways that will be meaningful for them.

I welcome your feedback on how this worked for you and what you have discovered. Your comments always help other readers get perspective.

Henna Inam is a CEO Coach focused helping women become transformational leaders. A Wharton MBA, and former C-Suite executive with Novartis and P&G, her passion is to engage, empower, and energize women leaders to transform themselves and their businesses. Sign up for her blog at www.transformleaders.tv.