When should you create a personal board?

It’s never too soon in your career to create a personal board – so now’s a good time to start. That’s assuming you haven’t already got some personal board ‘directors’ in your network that you may be overlooking. But first: what IS a ‘personal board’?

A personal board comes in very handy for your development and career progression. The concept was first suggested by Jim Collins, who recommended we recruit a trusty group of people that we can turn to for advice, ask to hold us to account, and – importantly, yet often overlooked – encourage us to challenge the status quo.

I should stress this isn’t about striving to build a ‘star chamber’ of high-profile people in your professional field that you can hit up for introductions and referrals. Some of your personal board may indeed be big names, but others may be low key and happy to keep it that way.

Some may offer their advice for free; others may charge. It’s unlikely that a personal board will meet all together, simply for your benefit; in reality you’ll meet them 1:1, whether that’s face-to-face or online. How to go about building your personal board?

Take these steps:


1. Get clear on your goals

First of all I suggest you define clear goals – see this post if you need help.

There’s no point approaching people and asking them for support if you don’t know where you’re going – get specific.

2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Secondly, I recommend reflecting on your own personal strengths and weaknesses, the better to be able to identify areas where your board can make the biggest impact. Otherwise, if you all share the same signature strengths, your progress could get a little lop-sided. Reflect on successes and setbacks: what personal qualities, skills and capabilities helped you with the former? What shortcomings were involved in the latter? Of course, there will be have been external factors involved in both; the aim here is to clarify what you brought to the table. Find out more about strengths here.

3. What attributes do you seek?

Now you can list the skills and attributes you’ll need to have represented around your ‘board table’. For example, if you’re naturally confident, someone who’s not afraid to challenge could be very good for you. If you tend to duck when challenging opportunities present themselves, someone who’s going to encourage and cheer you on will really help. You may need advice on finance, whether that’s the basics of business finance or how to raise investment. You could benefit from a board director who’s great at presentations and prepared to give you feedback. Or you may simply need someone who’s going to hold you accountable each week/month/quarter on your progress towards your goals.

4. Draft a list of potential ‘directors’

It’s essential to do the groundwork with your goals, strengths/weaknesses and the qualities you need on your personal board; jump in with a list of names and you may enlist people with whom you might work really well – or you may waste each other’s time. Indeed, someone you admire in your own field of work may not bring as much to the table as someone from a radically different discipline. So think broadly and look towards and beyond the boundaries of your network.


5. What’s in it for them?

Before you approach people, remember there’s an element of ‘what goes around comes around’ here; on whose personal board might you serve? This could be a great question to ask when approaching potential members of your personal board; how would they like to see you reciprocate? They may suggest you coach a job-seeker, help a student find their way through a tough assignment, give a talk at their former college or school. Or a skills swap could work really well, for example with a fellow participant on a course. That way, you’ll be stepping up to their personal board.

6. Agree scope and ground-rules

You will both need to agree ground rules upfront. What do you expect from each other? How often will you meet, when and where? Should you pay your personal board members? It’s important to discuss this. My accountant has been a pillar of my personal board for many years and he doesn’t dispense freebies. On the other hand, a respected author has been very generous with advice and challenges.


Let me know how you get on!


You may find this blog post useful: ‘10 trends to consider in your career plans’.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

Images ‘Help In Business’ by MSSA / Deposit Photos, ‘Businessman’ by Jayjay Naenae / Deposit Photos and ‘Good Idea’ by pretty vectors / Deposit Photos

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