Building a personal board of directors: Tips to activate your board

Identifying your career goals and building a trusted group of experts to advise you on an action plan is a valuable asset that will enable you to realize those goals with more clarity, direction and confidence. A personal board of directors can help you see and address any blind spots you may have, introduce new perspectives and creative solutions, and enable you to recognize, celebrate and promote your talents and achievements more effectively.

Once you have established your board, it’s time to activate it by arranging an opportunity to speak with each member and overtly share your career objective and how you think they may contribute to your journey. Asking open-ended questions specific enough to solicit actionable advice is an integral part of the process. To effectively lean on the board, you will listen more than talk to gather valuable information and evaluate where it fits into your plan.

An example of an initial outreach request might start like this:

Hi Nancy, I admire the way you connect with your employees and share information, my goal is to become a people leader in the next 18-24 months, and I want to prepare myself to get promoted and do a great job. Would you be open to having a coffee and sharing some insights into my development?

Hi Dave, I have been on some projects you have managed, and they always seem to run smoothly. I am interested in getting into project management and would love to hear more about your career path and get some of your thoughts on the type of training I would need or any advice to follow a similar career path. 

Open-ended questions and genuine curiosity are the winning combinations for activating your board; customization is critical, try to avoid asking the same list of questions for every board member. Prepare for each conversation by setting a small goal for each interaction and deciding what will make it a success.

Here are some examples of open-ended questions you could ask:

  • How did you become a VP/People Leader/Accountant/HR Partner?
  • Why do you love marketing? If you had to do it over, would you still choose marketing for a career?
  • What is the most challenging part of this position?
  • How did you get noticed to be promoted?
  • What training is required to become a project manager?
  • How do I move into a leadership role when I have never managed people?
  • You worked in HR, and now you are in Project Management. How did you make that shift?
  • What’s the best advice you have ever received?
  • What’s the worst advice you ever received?
  • Is there something about working as a director that no one talks about?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • How did you know this career/position was the best fit for you?
  • What’s the best part of being a VP?
  • What has been the highlight of your career so far?
  • Have you ever made a mistake that I can learn from?
  • If you were in my shoes, what’s the first thing you would do to achieve the goal I shared?
  • When you hire new project managers, what are you looking for?
  • Do you see any areas for me to improve to achieve my goals?
  • What are the top three qualities a shift leader needs to have?
  • How would you approach professional development if you knew you weren’t a strong writer/or good at dealing with conflict/a great communicator?
  • Can I check in with you again in a few months to talk about my progress?
  • Could I call you for advice on occasion?
  • I really enjoyed this chat. Can we do it again?

Closing the conversation:

Ideally, after each meeting, you would identify an exact date for a follow-up; even if the individual cannot commit to a specific time, add a note to your calendar to keep yourself accountable.

You WILL achieve your goals:

You are in charge of your career, and if you do not prioritize your career goals, who will? Too often, people take a passive approach to their career journey, hoping or believing that one day someone will tap them on the shoulder and offer them the job of their dreams. It might happen, but let’s prepare to map out our futures if it doesn’t.

Building your board and achieving your goal will not happen overnight, be realistic about what you can achieve and when and keep a steady focus on where you are headed – trust me, you’ll get there!

Building a personal board of directors: Tips to activate your board