Create a Personal Board of Directors Part I

by Cameron Schaefer on December 29, 2007

Personal Board of DirectorsRecently, my friend Beau Suder and I were discussing the need for accountability in life. Personal accountability is a funny term because it is so often tied to the process of coping with some sort of shameful addiction. It is true that this is often the case…and it has its place, but accountability is much more than just a way to defeat a struggle with some sin issue. The truth is if we want to live well, we all need accountability; people in our lives to help us reach our goals, discuss decisions with, keep us from making wrong turns and shine light on our blind spots. This sort of accountability was readily available to Beau and I during college as many of our closest friends were literally, “just down the hall.”

Since then, both of us have graduated and found ourselves in the “real world,” discovering quickly that one must be more intentional in building accountability into his life with most friends being scattered across the globe and not nearly as accessible. Beau brought up the idea his uncle had shared with him of a personal advisory council consisting of a handful of his closest friends, mentors and associates, people he would discuss major life decisions with, share goals and struggles with, etc. We agreed that this was one of the best solutions we had heard and decided to go about creating our own. I chose to call mine a board of directors being the business junkie that I am.

Following that conversation I discussed the idea with some people I highly respect, learning that many of them also have a system like this at work in their lives. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, anything successful in life from a business to a military unit has some sort of human oversight to keep the leadership in check and moving in the right direction. The question then becomes how does one take the structure and benefits of a traditional board of directors and tweak it for personal use? This is what the following couple of posts will be about, looking first at how to go about choosing who should be on your board, followed by defining the purpose and structure of such a board.

Choosing the Right People

Diversity – One of the most important factors in creating your personal board of directors is choosing a diverse group of people. Just as a corporation is strategic in choosing board members with various areas of expertise, one should avoid filling their council with the same type of person or a bunch of yes men. Richard Leider, in an article for Fast Company several years ago, outlined various types of people you should make sure to include on a personal board of directors. These included: “…a clarifier who asks clear questions, a connector who leads you to other people, a challenger who helps you act boldly, and a wise elder or sage” (Feb 2000).

By intentionally placing people from various backgrounds, experiences, personalities and skills on your board you will be sure to get the most complete and well-balanced counsel. When asked about diversity in a board of directors, my father-in-law, CEO of a large non-profit organization operating in Africa, explained, “By having a diverse group of individuals on your board the creativity brought to the table instantly increases as issues and ideas are debated from a wide variety of angles.”

– It is important that you have a relationship with each member of your board since the most intimate details of your life will be the subject of constant scrutiny. I am not advocating a board entirely made up of your best friends (low diversity), but unlike a corporate board who may not have any contact with the CEO outside of its periodic meetings, a fair amount of trust must exist between you and your members to make the process effective. Also, you need people who are not afraid to confront you and ask the tough questions. It is my experience that strangers, or even people with a weak tie, are very rarely willing to do this.

Shared Values – While I stress diversity as a necessary element of any successful board, there must also be an underlying consensus on major values and world view. For example, it does you no good to ask the help or advice of someone on the subject of prayer if they do not believe in God or the importance of prayer in the first place, it will simply be a waste of time for everyone involved. A common value system must be shared between you and your board if you intend for them to guide your life in a specific direction. Much of this should be resolved by simply following the previous requirement of relationship…you should know potential board members well enough to know if you share the same fundamental beliefs on issues like faith, family, work and money.

Leaders – After much thought on the types of people I will always want on my board I realized they all share a common identity: leaders. The fact is, I want to be a leader so it does me no good to surround myself with a board of followers. By picking leaders in various fields, careers, etc. you ensure that you will have a proactive board constantly pushing you towards excellence and more willing to challenge you than the average person. Leaders love making other leaders, its a natural process and one that should be tapped into if you are going to create a powerful and effective board of directors.

The best life is found in the midst of strong, organic relationships. The kind that go beyond kind words and a few laughs. Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (NIV) Creating a personal board of directors is about placing a system of counsel and accountability in one’s life, an important step in helping one reach their full potential and avoid many pitfalls along the way. Do you already have a system like this in place? If so, tell us about it. Next time, we’ll talk about defining the purpose and structure of your personal board of directors.

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