Our society emphasizes friends, family and co-workers as essential parts of our emotional and professional support system. Friends can offer distraction and encouragement, family members give unconditional love and co-workers may provide a sense of camaraderie and even professional advice. However, there are times when we need a fourth type of support in the form of a personal board of directors.
A personal board of directors is usually made up of up to six professionals in your age group — but not necessarily in your industry — who meet once a month to for brainstorming and encouragement. Keith Ferazzi, in his book Who’s Got Your Back, was one of the first to promote this idea of a small, intimate professional networking group.
If you’re not convinced, here are a few reasons a personal board of directors could be worth considering:
- More Honest Than Friends and Family
Friends and family can be wonderfully supportive and encouraging, but the often don’t want to be constructively honest or, if you are talking about Mom, Dad or Grandma, they think everything you do is spectacular no matter what. A personal board of directors is a great way to have a supportive but honest group of individuals to bounce ideas off of, and get advice and constructive criticism from, on everything from reports to resumes.
- Break From Your Industry
Sometimes it is good to take a break from your industry or co-workers and get an outside perspective. Often times this can help bring new energy to your ideas or career and get you to meet new people.
- Creating Accountability
Goals can be hard to keep. With a personal board of directors you can set goals and have your co-members help you stick to them. In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers confirmed the importance of having a small peer group to depend on. Their research suggests it’s best to motivate groups, not individuals. They compared compensation packages and found that group-incentive pay motivated workers better than individual-incentive compensation.
- Hone Your People-to-People Skills
In this digital age we spend less and less time with others — especially virtual workers. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management have found that groups of people who did well on tests had the most members who were also good at reading each other’s emotions. They had equal contributions to communications and were patient with each other’s answers and issues. One of the best parts of a personal board of directors is that you do not need a leader and you can solve problems as a group better than one of the individual members could by themselves.
How to Start Your Personal Board of Directors Group
- Identify between four and six professionals. The hardest part is connecting with a good group. Think of a few professionals you know who may or may not be in your industry who you think are intelligent, open-minded and collaborative. If you can only think of one or two, this is fine too — those members might have a few people in mind to invite.
- Decide how often to meet. I know personal board of director groups that meet every week. Others check in once every six months. Have an idea of how often you want to meet and tell invitees what to expect.
- Define ground rules. Once you have got an group together define some ground rules — no one leader, open support, constructive criticism only, confidentiality etc. You might want to create a Google Doc with the rules and then decide on your structure. I encourage Board of Director groups to go over goals every time they meet and then do goal check-ins with each other.
- Let it grow. You will find that your group will grow on its own — both in terms of rules and members. Remember, you do not want it to be too big because you want everyone to feel supported, but otherwise let members dictate the direction of the group.