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Build a Personal Board of Directors

Need some help making career-related decisions? Consider creating a personal board of directors—trusted colleagues whom you can count on to give you the thoughtful advice you’re seeking.

By Samantha Whitehorne

Association professionals need to make decisions—large and small—related to their organizations on a daily basis. Often, they come to the conclusions they do based on advice from colleagues, previous experience, or even a pro-con list.

But what if you need help in making important career-related decisions, such as determining whether it’s time to move on from your current position or asking for a promotion?

A personal board of directors may be the perfect sounding board and provide the insight and different perspectives you need, says Carol Vernon, certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters.

Personal board members should be knowledgeable, good at brainstorming, and committed to helping you get insights into your strengths and weaknesses.

—Carol Vernon

Like an association’s board of directors, a personal board serves as a confidential advisory group to help you make crucial life and career decisions. A personal board may comprise current and former colleagues, peers, and close friends who know you, care about you, and have useful points of view.

“At the end of the day, they should be knowledgeable, good at brainstorming, and committed to helping you get insights into your strengths and weaknesses,” Vernon says.

Board Composition

How do you create a board of your own? Vernon says to start by thinking about the type of advice you’ll 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,” she says.

After selecting eight to 10 members, connect via email with your whole group so they can see who else is participating.  “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 personal board,” she says.

Vernon suggests telling board members they have no fiduciary responsibility for your life, but rather that you need something even more important: their wisdom.

Relationship Management

Once your board members are in place and excited to participate, it’s key to engage them early and then consult with them as a large group on a regular basis, such as once every six months. You may not be able to gather board members in person, as they may be scattered across the globe, so relying communication tools like Skype is a must.

On that first call, Vernon suggests starting with a thank you and welcome message and then asking board members to introduce themselves and say why they were willing to serve on the board, what they are currently doing in their lives, and how they’re connected to you. 

“After that, explain in detail what changes you’re contemplating and provide a clear direction for the call with specific questions before closing with next steps,” she says.

Between calls that include the entire board, Vernon suggests calling two or three board members monthly and, if possible, connecting informally over lunch, drinks, or dinner.

The good news is that building a personal board of directors is a skill set that can be brought back to the workplace. “You can bring the experience of building your own board and offer insights when it comes to developing future volunteer leaders at your organization,” she says.

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]

Career Development