Building a Personal Board

Whether you are a founder, high flying exec or just getting on the corporate ladder, everyone needs a little help from time to time.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen adversity like none seen before in our time. Favours are being called in everyday to help people and businesses survive in these very crazy times.

Of the people we call upon — how many of us have consciously built a close network who will be there for you in tough times?

The need for a ‘personal board’

Back in 2017, We Are The City published the article I wrote about the creation of a ‘personal board’.

Whilst I now understand a few people have written about this idea over the past few years, the idea came from my own career experiences.

At events where I would be asked to share my career story; the theme of people who have helped my career always surfaced.

Any time I met a fork in the road, I had a core group of people I would seek counsel from. Some people would change over time, but the core was solid and would remain unchanged for years.

I imagined it as the board of Emma Maslen Inc. (that’s me by the way).

[Happy for you to imagine your board too]

I would think about — who was sat at my table?

Who could and would help steer my career?

Who could provide guidance or course correction?

Personal board & advisory board for founders

For founders, especially early on, advice comes at you from all angles. Personal boards can be really useful to keep you sane in those tough personal moments and the right members might also be a good fit for an advisory board.

Why an advisory board?

Early stage businesses need to bounce ideas around with a group who have a broad set of skills and range of backgrounds. Having an experienced, diverse group of individuals to do that with, free of charge, will help the business hugely in the early stages.

Frankly formal boards are great, but too expensive in the beginning and out of reach for many start-ups.

Personal boards for executives

It’s even more imperative for executives.

Executives need to continue to learn new skills and perspectives, in a safe environment. As you get higher in any organisation, the top can be a lonely place.

Coaches and mentors provide safe, confidential environments to work through tough situations which cannot be discussed in normal environments. However, there are other roles that are still important to help you learn new skills or perspectives, which I will talk about a little later on.

Guidance from all backgrounds

When I thought about where I would seek counsel in those times — it really was like a boardroom image. A good selection of trusted individuals who I could call on to keep me on track.

Like any good, diverse boardroom, my board had broad experience.

  • Those senior to me for an experiential perspective.
  • Those junior to me, to ask to check the foundations.
  • Peers, who could see my skills and expertise.
  • Coaches & mentors, to help surface the destinations I truly wanted.

I first thought of my board about 10 years ago and although I had managed to ‘collect’ a diverse group of board members along the way — it wasn’t deliberate.

However, once the board idea dawned on me — I started to think about what I was missing and who I was missing for balance, so I went looking for new members.

What am I missing? Recruit new members

With the help of my coach, I started to think about the skills and experiences I had, and those of my existing board.

With my future goals and destinations in mind, we started to map other skills, experiences and perspectives I may need, which helped me to think about who I might need to ‘recruit’ on to the board.

The most successful boards in the world are those who have multiple perspectives covered.

Board members provide healthy respectful challenging questions too.

If you are starting from scratch, in my article I gave a few ideas for ‘roles’ you might like to fill:

  • ‘Power roles’ — seniors with influence for a leg up.
  • ‘Information roles’ — people you could learn new skills from.
  • ‘Development roles’ — maybe a mentor, a coach, a challenger, to push you forward.

To give you an example of a practical application of this. Say you were thinking about looking for your first NED role — who do you know who is one and has experience?

Network roles are also pretty key to everyone. I doubt there is anyone on the planet who thinks their network is complete so sometimes working with someone who has a solid network in a certain area can accelerate progress.

Network roles are particularly key for founders — providing ideas on industries, access to customers and investors.

Identified the board? Build trust & share the plan

Once you have identified the right team to help guide you through the next phase of your career — start to think about how you can engage them in your plan.

First though, before you jump into the asks — you need to ensure you have the right relationships with the team. Do you have mutual respect and trust? If you asked for advice or help, could they and would they be able to help?

Then start to think about your asks.

  • What are the steps you need to take next?
  • How could they help?

We build these amazing relationships and networks, yet rarely do we ask people for help.

If you ask people though, you’d be amazed how quickly people will be jumping to help you.

What’s in it for them?

Like any relationship, help needs to be reciprocal.

When I think back to the help I have received in my career before, the motivation for the helper is usually one of two things:

  • They just like to see people do well and succeed
  • I am able to help their career in some way

I’d say 80% of the help I’ve received is because of the first reason — people like to help people.

The second reason sounds like a tall order — especially if you are asking people more senior than you to help you. But helping their career doesn’t have to be you getting a CEO their next job — it could just be that they want to learn from you too.

Perhaps you could fulfill an ‘information role’ for them — you have some expertise they would like to learn.

Using your board & keeping pennies in the jar

Once the team is assembled in your head, start to use your board to help you progress.

Ensure you are checking in with your board regularly, helping them as much as you are asking for help yourself…

It may not be that you need everyone today, but you will in time. Perhaps only just to sound out a new idea or challenge.

Keep putting pennies in the jar for the day you might need them.

As I mentioned in my original article, a problem shared is a problem halved and you’ll get to your goals much faster with the help of a great personal board.

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If you are looking for practical applications of this and brainstorm ideas on how a personal board can help your business or career — check out this series of events which will help you come up with ideas and connect to great people who can build out your personal board.

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Additional resources:

A problem shared is a problem halved

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