The Power Of A Personal Advisory Board (And Why You Need One Too!)
A personal advisory board is a group of people you call on when you need help making a decision. It’s similar to a board of advisors for a company without the formal commitment or regular duties. These are individuals you reach out to, poll, meet with, discuss, and agonize with when making a decision, navigating unknown paths, or going through an uncertain time.
We suggest having multiple personal advisory boards (ex., work, parenting, etc.). It’s also important to remember that it’s completely normal for the make-up of these groups to change over time.
In my 20s, my board of advisors included my first boss (and mentor), a few close friends from the Junior League (varied in age and experience), my father, a friend from college, my partner at the time, and a few former work colleagues. They helped me navigate things like how to handle conflict, how to ask for a raise, where to go next in my career, what to do if I was unsure about my approach, and more.
They were instrumental in helping me decide to move from the start-up I loved to scale new heights professionally by taking a position at IBM. And they helped me figure out where to go next when my job suddenly disappeared because the cutting-edge technology I was selling became a commodity.
What A Personal Advisory Board Can Support You With
While the people in your personal advisory board may change over time, they play a big part in your life. Here are just a few examples of what they can support you with:
- Help you navigate work issues and guide you in your career.
- Support you when you’re facing a crossroads in life.
- Assist you in figuring out how to grow professionally.
- Fill in gaps in learning/ knowledge.
- Provide empathy during a tough time.
- Connect you with others.
- Give you someone to bounce ideas off.
I Found Myself In A New City And In Need Of A New Personal Advisory Board...
I was out of my element, both personally and professionally. I moved from Boston to Raleigh to take on a new role at IBM. I had no idea where to meet friends outside of work (where everyone seemed to have gone to one of three colleges and known each other since birth). And something seemed to be lost in translation between this Northerner and the 65 yr old craftsman renovating my home. I needed a new personal advisory board stat!
I went back to basics and found a group of women (some a few years older, some a few years younger) in a newcomers group. We had a shared mission and interest in giving back, so connecting was easy. They brought together their various skills, helped me find a great hair salon, gave great feedback on my first few marketing communications plans, and taught me to make a terrific Mint Julep.
I also connected with a colleague at work who became a gentle sounding board and advisor and helped me adjust my somewhat brash and direct style, which wasn’t sitting well with the craftsman renovating my home. My much more tenured peer also helped me navigate the larger and more complex organization because, with his genuine kindness, he had befriended many.
My Advisory Board Helped Me Strategize...
I called on my advisory board when my young female voice wasn’t being heard, and they helped me form a strategy to push forward my ideas to support our clients better.
These early efforts at building my personal advisory board sometimes went nowhere. Other times, I struck gold.
For example, I met one of the women who became a great sounding board through a friend of a friend. She and I would run and talk shop in the pre-dawn early morning hours. Though in a different industry and function, I valued her input because she had a very analytical mind and approached problems with both discipline and a thorough understanding of human behavior.
Tips for Building Relationships With Your Personal Advisory Board
Finding the right members for your advisory board and cultivating these relationships takes time, but it’s important (and rewarding!) work.
Below are some tips that help build and strengthen the relationship with your personal advisory board:
Make the relationships personal, informal (no regular meetings), and two-way.
Start small by asking them to pick their brains and see how it goes (you don’t need to formally ‘invite’ them to be a part of your board).
Add in movement. The best conversations I have tend to be when we’re doing something else (walking, running, flower arranging, book club, bunco, class at the gym).
Keep in touch even when you don’t need anything.
Thank them when they come through for you (especially during a busy season or past their usual bedtime).
Share how you used their advice or what you decided - don’t leave them wondering how it all turned out.
Make the group diverse (in age, gender, race, thought, and perspective).
Figure out where you’re missing expertise and search those people out.
Remember, you don’t need to stick with one group or person forever.
And My ADVISORy Board Supported me When Deciding To Start My Own Business…
Years later, I was faced with yet another crossroads in my career. I could continue with a new internal OD job or take a package and set out on my own. As I deliberated, I realized I needed a whole new set of advisors here - some who were in my field, some who had chosen to start their own business, and others who hadn’t.
I had a family reunion that summer which gave me the perfect opportunity to explore and learn more from family members who already had their own flourishing businesses. They were great at sharing the unglamorous side of entrepreneurship. I also talked to a retired business school professor and board member, an older family friend, and others.
Whenever I met someone, they asked great questions - questions I hadn’t thought of. They acted as coaches, understanding what the issue was, exploring what I thought, how I felt, and what information I had. They encouraged me by sharing their experiences or connecting me with someone who had additional insights. Some of these folks were involved for just a small portion of the journey (my relatives, for example), while others have been involved much longer and serve in multiple capacities.
Your Personal Advisory Board Can Support Both Your Professional and Personal Life
Sometimes you can have an existing group that serves as an advisory board.
For example, my Boston-based book club was an excellent advisory board when I was dating, just before I met and subsequently married my husband. They were great at sussing out those who were fun vs. serious, had similar goals, were equally committed, etc.
As things got more serious with my husband, they had me think more deeply, consider more wisely, and discern what I wanted my future to be - so that my then starry-eyed self was making a decision that was head smart and heart smart. In fact, the group invited him for drinks at a restaurant one evening so that they could all vet him in person! (He got two thumbs up by the way.)
The best members of your advisory board get to know you deeply so that you support one another in multiple areas of your life. I’ve been lucky to have two of these people in my life - they have helped me at major crossroads, comforted, supported, advised, and challenged me.
My friend L and I used to run together (do you see a pattern here?) in the mornings before work. We would run (or walk!) to a certain bridge and then turn around, we’d focus on her one way and me the other way.
It was great because we were both able to provide support, coaching, and advice on the different aspects of our lives (we met in a different book club and became fast friends). The odd thing is, this just happened naturally. There was no plan or agreement made. And when one of us had a big leadership challenge, or a decision to make, the entire hour would be devoted to that person. L and I could connect around leadership, relationships, human behavior, interest in the brain, books, etc. She is super smart, wise, and empathetic; I hit the jackpot here.
Your Advisory Board Members Can Fill Multiple Roles
In contrast, my friend N is equally an MVP of my advisory board. She and I benefit from having gone to business school together and practically lived together for half of our second year as her apartment wasn’t ready for move-in. Those intense years of friendship, late nights, and navigating interviews and job offers allowed us to really know one another.
She is witty, dry, unbelievably smart, and sage (as is L), and she is the perfect challenger. She is practical, direct, and quantitative. She has experience living in a foreign country and is a numbers gal. She came in during a time in my business when I was at a crossroads, took a peek at some of my numbers, connected that to the number of hours I was working, and made some astute observations that prompted me to change my business model successfully.
She was also by my side at the birth of my second son and has helped me make some decisions about raising children. And she was one of four non-family members present at my dad’s funeral. She helped me navigate all this by always presenting a different perspective, putting things out there but not pushing forward her agenda.
We are opposites in so many ways, but our deep friendship and respect give us the freedom to share honestly. And she has been brave in giving me much-needed feedback even though it’s not her typical style. And just like the relationship with L - it is a two-way street.
I highly recommend creating your own personal advisory board.
AMANDA KATHLEEN ZINKE, MBA, MSOD, PCC
CEO & FOUNDER OF LEAD BEE LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
The members of your personal advisory board can support you with whatever you’re facing, whether it’s infertility, parenthood, chronic illness, work challenges, caregiving, losing a loved one, burnout, and so much more.
We’re all faced with difficult decisions or situations we aren’t sure how to handle from time to time, and cultivating a personal advisory board can help us weigh our options, feel supported, see things in a new light, or feel less isolated and alone.
A personal advisory board is great for tackling life's challenges, whereas a professional advisory board can provide expertise, perspective, and support for decision-making and problem-solving related to your work or career. Need some help in the meantime? We're happy to connect with you about our consulting and/or coaching services.