You’re standing at the precipice of a career-level decision. But all the options seem to have relatively equal merit – or equally poor merit. Perhaps the consequences seem a bit murky. What do you do? How do you choose? If you’ve developed an advisory board, you reach out to them for counsel. After you gain some perspective, you’re better prepared to make the decision and deal with the challenges that come with it.
Everyone should have one. Few of us do.
A personal advisory board is similar to an advisory board that many organizations make use of. Except that it’s for individuals. It’s typically not formal. And most boards don’t meet as a group, though some leaders are capable of garnering that level of support. For most professionals, it’s simply your own set of advisors that you can tap into. Sometimes, it’s for basic conversations; sometimes for helping you “sound out” ideas. Other times, for pointed advice.
A good advisory board is more than just a random group of networking colleagues. To be sure, it leverages your networking skills to “assemble” the board, but it’s more intentional in its construction and purposeful in its usage. It certainly serves as part of your broader networking efforts, but is designed from the start to be more strategic and deeply advisory in nature.
7 Guidelines for Building Your Advisory Board
When seeking out and choosing board members, most people are not going to ask “want to be on my advisory board?” The board is more of a virtual construct, though it serves a very real purpose. In any case, you should try to cultivate a trusting relationship and be up front with them . “I value your perspective and would like to be able to chat with you from time to time. Get your advice on occasion.” Some of this might happen in the normal course of your day, if it’s someone you work with or are formally mentored by. Here are some guidelines for building your personal advisory board:
- Be Intentional – Your board is assembled based on your career aspirations and specific professional goals. What types of knowledge, experience, and skills would be most helpful to you? Which roles, businesses, and industry exposure do you need? Create a list or a spreadsheet. From there, you identify the people you would like to “recruit” for your board.
- Think 360 Degrees – Seek out a varied set of people… those in leadership levels above AND below yours. Choose peers and employees. Leverage both clients and service providers. A well-rounded board is critical to helping you develop an agile approach to your thinking and decision-making.
- Diversify – One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make on the job is surrounding themselves with those who think, decide, and act just as they would. It creates group-think and limits the depth and breadth of your team’s capabilities. Know your blind spots and aggressively address them. The same applies to your board. Choose from across gender, ethnic and generational boundaries, among others. The more diverse your board, the richer your perspective.
- Evolve it– as your career and development needs change over time, so too should your board. You will have different challenges as an executive than you did as a supervisor. When you change roles or industries, the mix of your board should change as well. Also, no matter how carefully you choose your board members, some of them won’t work out. Perhaps their advice turns out to be ineffective. Or maybe they’re never available to you. Re-evaluate both the overall composition and individual members of your board at least annually.
- Selective but Multi-level – you have only so much time to devote to your own development, so you have to make choices. There’s no magic number, but 5-10 people seems about right. You should network more broadly but create at least two levels of your board. The 80/20 rule can apply here. You spend 80% of your time with 20% of your primary network. The rest is spent finding and cultivating relationships that will be important to you down the road.
- Pick straight-shooters – the worst advice is often the advice you don’t receive. You can’t afford to get sugar-coated or partial thoughts and ideas from people. Choose people who you know to be straight-forward communicators. And make your desire for frankness known. Finally, look for people who have the emotional intelligence to deliver such talk in a way you can hear and use.
- Practice Reciprocity – so far this all sounds a bit self-serving. It shouldn’t be. The only way this works in the long run is if you approach this from a win-win perspective. What do I have to offer? Do your members sometimes need advice, an introduction to someone, or help on a quick project? Return the favor. Even if one of your board members is a mentor well above your pay grade, ask sincerely and confidently how you can help them.
How you leverage your board will depend greatly on a number of factors, including your comfort level and the type and quality of the members you recruit. Some people will stick to occasional conversations where they will try to absorb information and ideas. Others will ask for formal mentoring.
A growing number of people have formal, scheduled developmental or problem-solving conversations every month, sometimes in small groups. Each person comes with one or two challenges they need to figure out, and they spend time bouncing ideas off each other. There’s no exact formula, but the more specific you are about your needs and your understanding of others’ needs, generally the more productive the relationship.
We’ve all read the advice that we should manage our careers like we do our jobs. We should also take a page from forward-thinking organizations that leverage advisory boards. These boards become a strategic partner, helping the company with insights and advice critical to their success. By taking an intentional, disciplined approach to development and decision-making ability, leaders at all levels can reap the same rewards.