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Building a personal board of directors

By Crystal Hyde   

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We all have an inner circle of trusted friends, those we rely on for advice when life throws us a curveball, but have you considered formalized a personal board of directors for your career development? A personal board can act as a sounding board, offering distinct expertise to take your career to the next level.

Your board members serve different purposes and have distinct expertise, but consistently these members need one key ingredient: trust. The people you trust to be completely selfless in their guidance and advice with a single focus on helping you to meet your goals are the ideal candidates to make up your board.

A simple exercise to determine your board members is to write a list of trusted professionals in your network, noting their area of strength beside their names. Then write down your career goals to assess what resources you may require to support your efforts. Once you have identified the subject matter expertise you need, you can then start to slot in board members identifying any gaps.

While certain members will remain consistent, your board may change depending on the goal you are moving towards and adding members with specific expertise to contribute to more of their knowledge to achieve your next milestone. What if you need a financial expert and don’t have one in your immediate pool of contacts? Network, ask your existing board members for recommendations, as others for referrals and then identify the best fit to contribute to your career journey.

At this point, a common question becomes, “Why would someone join my board of directors and donate their time?”. This is a general question I get from career starters about networking with more senior professionals, and my answer is consistent: anyone further along in their career recognizes the value of the many contributors to their journey and often welcome the opportunity to pay it forward by giving someone else a helping hand. This rule does not apply to everyone, but you’ll be surprised by how many people openly and willingly share their expertise to assist others in their careers. Well-developed expertise is a gift to be shared, and those confident enough to know that share enthusiastically.

Now that you have identified your board of directors formally or informally at your discretion and want to activate it, how do you do that? To make the most of the resources available to you, it’s vital to be a receiver, meaning your goal is to provide plenty of air time for the member to share their knowledge, ask open-ended questions and listen, take notes and not dismiss a single idea of how you extract the most information to consider.

Listening to advice does not mean you need to take it or even apply it. Instead, consider it, layer over the nuance of your particular circumstances and goals and make the best-informed decision for you. If you do not take the lead in the process and filter accordingly, this is where people can get lost chasing their tail and by changing direction with every piece of advice. The belief that respecting the recommendation is to follow it is honourable, though it leaves you rudderless when navigating towards a goal. You have to be the captain of your ship, and taking this approach of listening, considering, and adjusting to customize your strategy is a critical lesson in leadership. No one should lead your career journey but you.

You are the head of your board that you have contributed to your career goals. To get the most out of this esteemed group, you need to compose thoughtful, open-ended questions. For example, “I want to be a director in the next three years; what should I do now to prepare myself?” “How would you approach asking for a raise?” “What are some things you had to overcome to get to where you are?” “What do you suggest to improve my writing?”. By preparing clear and direct questions before engaging with each member, you can ensure you are making the best use of their time.

The most respectful approach to your members is to prepare before speaking with them, acknowledge the importance of their time and don’t take too much. Engaging with members for shorter increments of time and more frequently can keep your guidance current relevant and adjust to real-time developments on your progress.

For a checklist example of open-ended questions, email

Crystal Hyde is a certified professional coach in Waterloo, Ont., and founder of Propel Leadership Coaching, specializing in communications consulting and leadership coaching.

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