The board of directors of a company addresses high-level business objectives, with voting authority and fiduciary obligations. A board of advisors is more informal, providing non-binding strategic advice that can benefit a start-up or smaller company by giving it third-party insights, encouragement, market knowledge, accountability, connections and other resources. Savvy individuals have come to realize that, especially in the new economy, we are each our own business to a greater or lesser degree, whether or not we officially operate as one. Does that mean we each need our own board of advisors?
Many successful professionals intuitively create a loose association of advisors without formalizing the relationships. They have mentors and occasional professional advisors that function in an ad hoc way to support short-term projects or “put out fires” in their business lives. This approach is a great first step, and formalizing this core group frames your trajectory in a foundational way and keeps you on the path to success.
Clearly, you do not need to hold meetings in a fancy boardroom with leather chairs or even get all of your advisors in a room together. While it may help focus the conversation, it can also prove a distraction if it is not a place or assembled group that feels comfortable enough to relax and creatively brainstorm and troubleshoot according to your needs. In fact, your respective advisors do not even need to know each other, since you are not a company for whom they are collectively setting policy but rather an individual seeking guidance, support, grounding and the oh-so-important reality checks. I do suggest, however, that you take more than an occasional, eccentric approach to incorporating one or more boards of advisors into your significant life and professional decisions. Have the infrastructure already in place for the moment of truth when you really, truly need it, so you can call on your advisors without triangulating their whereabouts or struggling to identify whom these angels should be.
I use the word “framing” above very deliberately. With my coaching clients, I often discuss reframing an experience to take ownership in a new way. For example, sales becomes less scary (and ceases to feel inauthentic) if you believe passionately in the service you are providing. A board of advisors becomes less of a foreign concept as an individual if you believe passionately in your own success and wish to give others the opportunity to share in that experience, with a willingness to offer your own help in advance or give back in return. Your passion fuels their willingness to be involved.
In my own life, I have found greater success in those periods that I had a “board”, whether it was a formal group of colleagues meeting on a regular basis or roster of individual mentors and professional advisors that I turned to regularly. Much earlier in my career, I was nervous or fearful that I was taking too much time from people who already had busy careers. At the same time, I failed to invest in myself, financially or otherwise, to get the professional insights that would have made a decisive impact on my advancement.
Why? I thought putting my head down and cranking out whatever was asked of me in the moment showed my “worth” more than cultivating relationships. My accomplishments would speak for themselves, I thought, not realizing the entire world that I was shutting out while I repeatedly closed my door to do some “real work”. I also failed to understand the value I would create by involving others in my experiences and sharing my insight for theirs in return. Value for all, not only for me.
Electing the right mix to your board of advisors and tapping into them is not an exercise in taking – which is a dead end – but rather in creating value through meaningful personal interactions. In short, you are tapping into the electrifying power of collaboration in a formal way. By electing these mentors, colleagues and advisors to your “team”, you are fostering buy-in for your success. If you are respectful and show gratitude for their investment in your future, your newly-formed board can provide a critical backbone and sounding board to help you frame, keep sight of and reach your goals.
In a future post, I will discuss how you can assemble the right board for you.