Our Thoughts

How to Build a Personal Board of Directors in 4 Steps: When One Mentor Isn’t Enough

By: Jessica G. Mendoza

Wouldn’t life’s challenges seem less daunting with a group of clear-eyed advisors to give you honest feedback on your dilemmas and decisions? Take a cue from organizations large and small and create your very own personal board of directors. 

Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private firms and non-profits also choose to create boards. Members of these governing bodies have diverse skill sets and meet regularly to set policies, provide oversight, and keep the organization on track. This may include fiduciary duties (e.g., hiring and firing executives, setting dividend policies and payouts), setting broad goals, and ensuring the organization has the support and resources it needs. 

But what, exactly, constitutes a personal board of directors (PBD)? Your PBD can be whatever you make it—a deliberate group of mentors who can help with different facets of your personal and professional life. Here are some common PBD missions: 

  • Serve as a sounding board for your ideas, offer advice, challenge you when PBD members believe you are off base, and encourage you to take affirmative action. 
  • Share their experiences and expertise, point you toward the resources you need, help you expand your network, and challenge you to grow. 
  • Represent a variety of skills and viewpoints to offer you a more diverse field of information. Because they employ different styles of feedback, your PBD members will likely point out things you’re not seeing. 
  • Ensure you take in both the big picture and small details. 
  • Keep you accountable for your goals. If that’s a function you’d like your board to fulfill, you might ask members to follow up on your progress within a given timeframe. 

Create Your Team of Mentors in Four Easy Steps

Step 1 – Determine your ‘why?’

The first step in assembling a PBD is to determine why you need one. Before you decide which potential mentors you’ll pitch on board service, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I want to improve and/or advance my professional life? 
  • What is something I want to learn about so that I’ll be better at my job? 
  • What do I want my career/life to look like in a year? Five years? Ten years? 
  • What strengths do I have, and am I putting them to use? 
  • What are the weaknesses that might hold me back from achieving my next goal? 

Once you’ve answered each question, think about how mentors could help you fill knowledge gaps and achieve your goals.  

Step 2 – Choose your candidates

Now that you know what you want to achieve with your PBD, it’s time to consider candidates. The most helpful and efficient size for your board is generally three to five mentors. This size allows you to cultivate meaningful relationships while still benefiting from a variety of perspectives. 

Here’s a list of desirable qualities to look for in a PBD candidate: 

  • Will critique you honestly to help you grow. 
  • Will cheer you on and encourage you. 
  • Is someone whom you aspire to emulate, whether professionally, spiritually, and/or personally. 
  • Has been where you are now and cleared similar obstacles. 
  • Is an expert in the industry or another area where you’d like to make more progress. 

Step 3 – Recruit your team

Once you’ve chosen your candidates, it’s time to reach out with your PBD request. Remember that you’re asking people for their time and mentorship. They may not be in a position to commit right now, so it’s wise to have some backups in mind. If you don’t have an existing relationship with someone you’d like to appoint, ask a mutual connection to introduce you and begin cultivating a relationship. 

Make sure you’re prepared to talk honestly and in detail about your vision for your PBD and how each individual fits in. Be ready to answer: 

  • How often you’re looking to connect. 
  • Whether you prefer to meet in person, via video, and/or in phone conferences. 
  • Whether accountability to goals is part of the agreement. 
  • The issues you’d like to focus on, such as developing a new skill.

Give your candidates ample time to consider your request. 

Step 4 – Mind your manners

Your relationships with PBD members may be a bit unbalanced—at least at first—as you plumb the wisdom of people who have achieved the professional or personal goals you’re working toward. There are no formal rules for setting up a PBD, but there are courtesies you should be ready to extend to these mentors: 

  • Anytime they give advice, whether you follow it or not, reach out to thank them for their input and let them know the outcome. 
  • Be gracious, and don’t make every interaction about you. Connect personally—e.g., wish PBD members happy birthday, ask about their work and family, send them a thank you card, take them out to dinner occasionally. 
  • Work to ensure relationships continue to be valuable for both you and your mentor. As you grow and meet your goals, you may want to change the composition of your PBD. Your board members will also take on new challenges. They may no longer have the bandwidth to mentor. Leave the door open for PBD members to exit gracefully when the time comes. 

With thought, preparation, and gracious follow-through, you don’t need to figure it all out yourself as you work toward your goals. You can call on the collective wisdom of your very own PBD. 

There’s no need to go it alone personally, professionally…or financially. FJY advisors stand ready to help you create a holistic, comprehensive financial plan that supports the most important goals in your life.