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April 2, 2023

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How To Establish a Personal Board of Directors

By Amy Kopelan

So many talented women managers and senior executives have what it takes to move up in their organizations. They work smart, they network effectively, and they have mastered the art of being their own press agents. What they often don’t have is a personal board of directors that can advise them.

At every level of your career, you should have a personal board, keeping in mind that its make-up and complexion will change as you grow. It should consist of four or five key people who are not emotionally invested in you, but instead believe in your abilities and talents. These are people who will give advice when you face key decisions.

Your personal board is different than having a coach or a mentor. Many managers mistakenly think it’s the same. Mentors usually serve as guideposts inside your company and talented coaches encourage you to go the extra mile or try the things that are tougher to tackle.

Here’s the best way to create a strong and effective board:

  • On paper, make a long list of people who might serve on your board and segment them into three columns:

a) People who know you well, such as a sibling, a good friend, a partner

b) Advisors in your professional life, such as an accountant, an attorney, a speech coach

c) People in your personal or professional circle who you admire, such as a senior executive, a parent, a professor

  • Re-visit your list on several different days. Decide what combination of these people would provide the best objective advice. You should shoot for a good mix of professional skills, industry experience, age, and knowledge of your abilities.

Note which are List A (your first choices) and which are List B (alternates).

  • Sort all of your names into a grid. Next to each name write:

Relationship, Organization/Company, Specific knowledge or Skill, Contact Info

  • Look at the mix you’ve designated to determine if you have a good balance. Do you have too many financial advisors perhaps? Are you missing marketing experts? Are there too many people who are related to you? You are aiming for a good mix of talents, industry knowledge, and experience. You are also going for a smart mix of gender and age.

Now that you’ve got your grid in hand, you’re ready to start contacting the A List.

How you will invite someone to serve? Here are some failsafe approaches:

  • Tell the candidate that you have decided to assemble a personal board of directors and you would be honored if he (she) would join the board.
  • Explain that your board will be an advisory body to you and that there will be no required meetings.
  • Let your candidate know that you respect her (his) judgment, experience and knowledge and you believe she (he) can offer sound advice.
  • Be clear about the specific talent you hope each member of the board can bring when you have strategic decisions to make.

Most people will be flattered by your request and will enjoy the opportunity to guide you. If they cannot serve, they will let you know. Let everyone know that it’s an informal process, and you’ll be in touch by phone or e-mail.

At the end of each year, re-visit your board list. As you progress in your career, you may want to add members or politely excuse some from serving. This is your “Go To” team and you always want to have people on it who believe in you.

Kopelan is President and Executive Director of COACH ME Inc., a leadership development and business education Institute in New York. She is also co-author of I DIDN’T SEE IT COMING, The Only book You’ll Ever Need To Avoid Being Blindsided In Busines s.