What is a Personal Board, and how can you build yours?

Love to have a group of people you speak to regularly, who can advise you on how to progress your career or business? Find out why you need a personal board.

There is an old saying that the people with the best advice are usually the ones who have been through the most. One of the areas I receive the most questions about is the form and forum of the Personal Board.

Imagine you have the services of a corporate board at your disposal – your own Personal Board – the best and brightest minds in business to help you progress your hopes, your dreams and your career. 

I have a vision of my Personal Board, starting with the boardroom. I imagine a large, beautifully decorated room – perhaps a corner office overlooking Central Park – with modern decor, a glass table, white chairs and mood lighting. High-quality teas and coffees are steaming away on a side table. . . My scene is set.

I am sitting at the boardroom table, waiting for my Personal Board members to walk through the door to start my meeting. They’re a mix of respected mentors, coaches, colleagues and friends.

Who is on my Personal Board?

When I think about my current Personal Board, I consider myself blessed to have such a diverse group of individuals seated around my boardroom table.

My board includes, personal connections (my husband and three school friends), a small-business coach, a marketeer, an engineer of helicopters, development connections (a C-suite executive coach and a founder of an investment firm), and industry connections (the chairman of a FTSE 250 company, the CEO of a US company, a career salesperson and a serial entrepreneur).

Each of these board members can provide guidance, advice or a different perspective on the issues that regularly confront me. Some are senior to me, some are junior and some are working in parallel industries. Some, such as my husband, are not in the industry at all. Some knew they had been invited to sit on my Personal Board, while others are people I go to for ad hoc advice and guidance whenever I need it.

Once my Personal Board members have arrived, I will tell them about my goals, my achievements to date, my next steps and my plans for the future, plotting my journey forward.

How I meet with my Personal Board

The Personal Board concept is a virtual one. Above I have described a boardroom setting, but that is an imaginary concept. It helps me to visualise my set of advisors in a formal but welcoming setting, but in practice, I approach each person individually. They are a series of people I talk to separately whenever I need help in deciding where I should go next and what actions I need to take.

Ideally, I meet these people face-to-face, but sometimes we chat on the phone. Occasionally, I might meet two people together in person to discuss a certain subject, but it’s never with all of my Personal Board together ‘boardroom-style’.

In short: The concept is about having a regular group of people who can share, coach and help you with your goals, typically on a one-to-one basis. It’s important to note that people should give their advice free of charge, and they should always have your best interests at heart. This might at first make you think it safer to turn to the people closest to you, but there are lots of benefits to reaching out to others.

Why a Personal Board helps you avoid the wrong advice

If you want to hear how good you are, you can simply listen to your friends. If you want to hear how good you could be, you need to listen to a wider circle of people – those who can offer you dispassionate advice.

This is one of the fundamental principles of a Personal Board. We all have conversations with people we have organically ‘collected’ along our journey. Let’s take a moment to celebrate those conversations and relationships. I certainly know I wouldn’t be successful today without them.

Organic relationships can be great in providing advice and encouragement. However, if your aim is to accelerate your achievement, why wouldn’t you stop and think about how you could improve that advice?

Four types of advice to avoid

One of the reasons I developed the idea of a Personal Board for working through my situations was that the advice I had been receiving fell into the same four categories every time:

  1. Predictable: Lacking diversity; from the same contacts, peers and friends
  2. Filtered: Where I sometimes didn’t get the whole opinion
  3. Biased: Where the advice was often based on their own situations and experiences
  4. Unwanted source: Where, especially in the early days, advice was given freely by many people

Having realised I was not refreshing the sources of my advice, I started to think about how I could take on different views and perspectives. I then took that a step further and thought, ‘If I could approach anyone for advice, who should I choose?’

It helps to supplement your board with new, diverse sources. This is the biggest difference in selecting your advisors strategically rather than only gathering them organically. Your Personal Board needs to evolve as your career progresses. I still have Personal Board members who have been with me since school, but I have added new members, depending on my changing development plans and my progress concerning my goals.

Ultimately, a Personal Board comprises your best advisors at any stage of your career. Think of this as a way for you to strategically consider the advice you are seeking and accumulate the help you need to accelerate your achievements.

This is an adapted extract from The Personal Board of You Inc. by Emma Maslen.

Emma is a sales leader, consultant, coach and angel investor. She is also CEO and founder of inspir‘em. With over 25 years tech industry experience, the inspir ‘em team has a proven track record in helping sales teams and individuals accelerate their careers.

Throughout her career, Emma has closed multi-million dollar investment bank deals for the technology sector and led several businesses, also working for companies such as Sun Microsystems, BMC Software and SAP.

In 2018 Emma became an angel investor through Angel Academe. She now also works with start-ups, scale-ups and large enterprises, coaching their teams to higher growth.

Emma’s new book, The Personal Board of You Inc, is all about the importance of networking and explains how readers can recruit the best and most applicable personal advisors to accelerate their goals, thus creating the optimal ‘Personal Board.’ 

Photo by Joel Muniz