Create Your Own Personal Board of Directors

Last Updated Aug 30, 2011 12:31 PM EDT

A recent survey of millenials shows that most of them have some kind of advisory board - a group of experts, friends and supporters that they turn to when making big decisions: changing career, going back to school, buying a house or even getting married.

The most successful executives I know all have a group of trusted advisors.

This kind of board is more than a network. It is a small core of people who care about your success--both personal and professional.

This is how Holly Goodwin, a high tech project manager, described hers to me:
"The people on your Personal Board of Directors are not only useful for helping you move up, they are also helpful in correcting you when you need a sanity check. EVERYONE should have a PBOD. People from your work, faith/spiritual life, personal relationships, family etc. Those people whose judgment you value and whose opinions matter to you are the people who should be on your PBOD. If you don't have a network like this, GET ONE. You will go nuts without it."
Boards like this are crucial when you're making an important decision, about whether to change jobs, change companies or when you feel you're stuck in an unproductive mode you don't understand. More than once, my board members, by being fearlessly truthful, have saved me from myself by giving me insight I could not have gained any other way.

So what should you look for in your board members?
  1. Honesty. You need to find people who are prepared to argue with you and to deliver some hard truths that you may find uncomfortable. Board members aren't cheerleaders - even though they will celebrate your success.
  2. Professional insight. Not all but some of your board members need to understand how your industry or profession works. Otherwise you'll get goodwill but their advice may be out of date or irrelevant.
  3. Values. Everyone needs what I think of as values guards: people who will send alarm signals if they see you losing sight of your values and integrity. Under pressure at work, it can be easy to slide into bad habits without noticing how you've changed direction. You need outsiders to see when something has changed.
  4. Perspective. I've always included in my PBOD at least one person who has worked for me in the past. That's because it matters to me that the decisions I make are as convincing to those I'm responsible for as to those above me. I don't believe true leadership focuses exclusively on pleasing bosses. I also greatly value the opinions of those younger than myself, since they see the world from a very different angle.
Just like company boards, I try hard not to waste the time of these valued advisors. But unlike a company board, I don't feel answerable to them. When faced with a big decision, their input isn't an election and I'm not bound by their votes. But on many occasions, they have helped me dig myself out of deep holes I could not have escaped alone.

Image courtesy of Flickr user sammydavisdog
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  • Margaret Heffernan On Twitter»

    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.