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As executives get closer and closer to the c-suite, they all too often realize that it’s lonely at the top.

For this reason, it’s no wonder that executive coaching is one of the fastest growing professions worldwide. The broader category of business coaching became a $15 billion industry in 2019, up from just $2 billion in 2015.

Even if coaching isn’t being facilitated by a professional, senior leaders are increasingly recognizing the importance of growing and leveraging a strong support system of other executives. Harvard Business Review advised that those who look to climb the corporate ladder invest in maintaining a ‘personal board of directors’. This informal group of six to eight people consists of individuals who understand your professional goals and are those with whom you’re comfortable sharing your vulnerabilities.

Personal Board of Directors - An informal group of six to eight people consisting of individuals who understand your professional goals and can help you develop as a leader.

A personal board of directors should contain three profiles of people:

Fans - These individuals are in your corner and want to see you grow. They are the most apt to celebrate your wins, and will deliver feedback with positive intent. They are often the group with whom you have the longest or deepest relationships, and thus are most likely to come to your rescue following a setback, and help you to maintain momentum when things are going well.

Sponsors - These individuals have the capacity to unlock the doors to the next stage in your career. They either sit one or more levels above you in the corporate hierarchy, or have a network they can tap if you need insight or influence.

Critics - While it may surprise you, having at least one critic on your advisory board may be the key to unlocking your full potential. While critics may be the toughest to approach, their ability to provide frank feedback can help you address deep seated problem areas that others find difficult to broach. They are also useful in playing the devil’s advocate, allowing you to broaden your perspectives and justify your decisions with more intellectual rigor.

The concept of a personal board of directors is similar to the functional purpose of a corporate board. They help you to set the long term vision and strategic plan necessary for you to accomplish your goals. Unlike a corporate board, members of a personal advisory board may never even know that they are members. In most situations, the members of a personal board of directors won’t meet regularly, nor would they be expected to work collectively. What’s most important is that the ‘chairman of the board’ (i.e. you) assembles a diverse body that can provide input on a variety of situations and that the members have demonstrated a willingness to support whenever advice is needed.

When managing your personal board of directors, be sure to follow these 5 tips:

  1. Strive for diversity among as many dimensions as possible. Cultivating diversity of thought and experience allows you to create a mosaic of expertise that gives you much more dexterity when navigating unfamiliar circumstances.
  2. Treat it as a dynamic unit. Just as you aren’t the same professional now as you were 5 years ago, so too should you consider forming a dynamic advisory board that evolves as you do. Given that the personal advisory board is not a formal arrangement, there is no need for you to explicitly message the end of a relationship; however, it’s worth sharing with your regular contacts whenever your personal development priorities have shifted.
  3. Include both peers and those in aspirational roles. If you find an organization, job title, or industry especially interesting and want to develop a deeper understanding of that space, consider adding a contact from that space to your personal advisory board. However, make sure you’re also seeking input from non-mentors who understand you in a different capacity and can help you to develop in other areas.
  4. Stay in touch and share updates. Consider designing a process that allows you to update individuals regularly and share goals, challenges, and wins. This process doesn’t have to be rigid, but should occur with enough frequency that you feel comfortable seeking input whenever you need it.
  5. Pay it forward. You may already be in someone else’s personal advisory board and not know it.  Be open to supporting your peers and juniors (and even seniors), and make sure those in your own personal advisory board feel valued as well.  Even small efforts like sharing an article or making an introduction are helpful in showing that you seek to give back whenever you can.

Just as iron sharpens iron, the most effective leaders are backed by a reliable and trustworthy team. By building a personal board of superhero directors that consist of individuals who understand your professional goals and align with your long term vision, you will be better equipped to grow and reach new heights in your career. Find a team that is diverse in skillsets, experiences and personality, and you’ll be one step closer to conquering any challenges you may face in the journey ahead!

Learn how Asavi can help you discover, map, and assemble your own personal advisory board.

Asavi is a market intelligence tool for talent and leadership teams, on a mission to become APAC's leading resource for organizational insights. Sign up today to join our waitlist!