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.

{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Pratt December 30, 2007 at 7:48 pm

I really liked the personal board of directors title to accountability. Accountability has definitely taken a different form and frequency since leaving school. I have been trying to get in touch with people who were in similar positions that I am in, who are doing things now that I would like to do. If you care at all about the future, and set goals, you probably find yourself thinking a lot about things that you don’t have a clear picture of. I got tired of it, so I am trying to contact people who could point me in the right direction, and could be a long-term career advisor. You cannot succeed on your own, and there are a lot of people who want to help you succeed. How many people do you want on your “board?”

Cameron Schaefer December 30, 2007 at 9:10 pm

Mine has 6 on it which seems to be big enough that I have guys from all walks of life and various areas of expertise, but small enough that it is easy to organize and maintain. 4-6 seems like an optimum number, but whatever works best for you. This is fairly new to me as well though, so these numbers could change over time

Brian Reese December 31, 2007 at 7:57 am

Hi Cam,

I like the idea of a personal board of directors. However, how do you achieve synergy, diversity, and personal accountability all at the same time?

Will you be more or less honest with close friends about tough subjects involving personal issues?

I’m not sure on this one, what do you think?

Cameron Schaefer December 31, 2007 at 8:40 am

Thanks for your thoughts. I believe the answer to your first question relies on having a diverse group of friends. The diversity will give you synergy and the close relationships will help you with accountability. If all of your closest friends have the same jobs, same personalities, experiences then I guess I would say start trying to build new friendships with people in different walks of life. This is good practice not just for building a board, but for life in general.

Secondly, it is my experience that close friends are the ONLY people I will be truly open and accountable to. It is not wise to be personally accountable to people you don’t know well or trust. The guys I have chosen to be on my board are people I can trust with intimate details of my life, spiritually, financially, etc. And, they are the guys I know have no problem taking me to the shed if I step out of line. What gives me the ability to be transparent with them is the trust we have already built through past relationship. In short, I know they have my best interests at heart.

Justin Steinhart January 2, 2008 at 10:24 pm

I thought that this was a great piece for several reasons. Even though you mixed freindship and business ideas. There were a couple of the friendship pieces, that I would like to further input on. First off, I believe there are far too many people that don’t give enough interview time for furture friends…I’ll just call these people “needy.” They use and consume as many people as possible. For instance on Facebook, they may have upwards of 400-500 friends…but are they really friends? They seem to have a high turnover rate of “freinds,” sure they are always looking for another find like any business looking for an employee, but they can never seem to make them stay. Thus I believe that by not being patient in a friendship, and letting grow in time, they just move on to engage in the initial excitement, never building a board around them.

The second point was that you greatly articulated what you are looking for in friends…for which I personally found funny because if as friends you and I didn’t share common interests we wouldn’t be friends. It is all about shared experiences. Thus the importance of knowing what you want in a friend and out of a relationship.

Teresa Morrow January 30, 2008 at 3:10 pm

This is a interesting topic because I have had this conversation about a year ago with a mentor of mine. I have a different name for my “board of directors”. I call them my “Golden Circle”.
I think it is important to set up a group of people. I like your points about them being from diverse backgrounds which makes them different, however, they share the trait of leadership. For me, I feel that the “board of directors” or “Golden Circle” can grow or change too depending on how I evolve in my business life. What do you think about that Cameron?
I do agree that the BOD should share similar values as well…it does make it easier for you to head in the same direction. When the values are too different, to me it wastes time on where you see things going. For me, integrity in business is crucial and if that isn’t something that someone believes, they wouldn’t be selected to be in my “golden circle”. We would spend way too much arguing and it wouldn’t do either one of us any good. And, the number of people in my “golden circle” is 8, so it falls within the range as discussed.
Also, I would like to address the fact of having friends in your “golden circle” or on your BOD. Although I agree with Cameron that it can be nice to have a friend on your BOD, it can be a bad idea for some. I find that too many people are too sensitive with their friends and aren’t as honest with their friends because “they don’t want to hurt their friend’s feelings. And of course, trust is the key to any good relationship, no matter if personal or professional.

I enjoyed this discussion and hope to come back to chat more.

Cameron Schaefer January 31, 2008 at 11:21 am

Thanks so much for the great comments, I love it when people take the time to really leave some great content! I completely agree that your BOD can and probably should grow and change as you go through life. It may be that you change careers, directions, etc. and need people better suited to advise you in those areas.

As far as having friends on your board, my argument would be that true friends care more about the development of the other person than they do the relationship itself. It took me years to realize this and when I first developed a friendship where the friend wasn’t afraid to call me out, it surprised me. But, the more I grow in my friendships the more I believe that my best friends are the ones who place sensitivity second behind the betterment of the other person. The wounds of a friend are faithful and can be trusted unlike an enemy who only seeks to destroy you. Better to have your friends call out your flaws before your enemies do.

I guess all of this though simply hinges on my definition of friend. Having said this, I completely understand what you are getting at. It is true that most people don’t have strong enough friendships where brutal honesty like this is acceptable. And you’re right, it wouldn’t be smart to fill your board with a bunch of people scared to hurt your feelings, I agree with you wholeheartedly!

I hope you continue to come back and discuss these things as well, its great to throw these ideas out and get feedback!

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Thanks for posting the BOD set up for us to look at. I just finished helping my son set up his personal BOD. He has just graduated from university and is looking for some guidance in what his path might look like. We pulled together 7 friends, mentors and associates and had a two hour meeting to plot his gifts, blind spots and potential options for the future. It was very worth while although it does take some coordination to get the right people together at once. Our meeting was held in Toronto but the participants were in Calgary, Vancouver Island, Korea and downtown Toronto. We will see what the results are once my son begins acting on the lessons learned from the meeting.


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