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What is a personal board?

A personal board is your personal and professional support system. It’s a collective of people with different experiences, strengths, abilities, knowledge, and networks who you can rely on to provide advice, critical feedback, coaching, advocacy, introductions, information, or an empathetic ear, as you navigate your career journey.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be possible to find one person in your life to play each of these roles, so you will likely craft your personal board with five to eight individuals of varying backgrounds. It is important that each of these people have a personal or professional interest in seeing you succeed. Indeed, the quality of the relationships you already have in place, will certainly impact the quality of the outcomes your personal board can help you to generate.

Who should you have on your personal board?

In general, there are a few roles you might integrate into the fabric of your board.

Advocate / Champion / Sponsor: Someone in a position of influence (likely in a decision-making role more senior than you), who can evangelise your capability and potential to others at their level and elevate your visibility within an organisation.

Coach: Someone objective, who is once or twice removed from your inner circle and doesn’t necessarily work within your organisation or industry. Their role isn’t to tell you what you need, or what to do, but to ‘hold a mirror’ up to you so you can reach important conclusions for yourself.

Mentor: Someone who is likely within your industry or workplace and can share the benefit of their experience and knowledge to help you develop within your role.

Peer: A trusted colleague, someone who is in your corner who can act as a sounding board in the day-to-day.

Expert: Someone who is at the top of their field, and perhaps in a role or place in their career that you aspire to for yourself. They can teach you what you need to know.

Connector: Someone who is extremely well networked, and happy to make any introductions you need.

The members of your personal board will evolve over time, depending on your career status, your particular situation and goals, economic or general market conditions, and of course as you continue to grow your personal and professional network. Initially, build it organically from the relationships that already exist for you. Then, treat it as a dynamic entity and consistently evaluate who you have on your board and why, so you can make changes as necessary.

It’s not a one-way street.

Although your personal board should be built with your professional success in mind, it’s important to see it as a mutually beneficial relationship. This relies on continuing to develop an authentic connection with your board members by seeking out shared aims or interests and reinforcing trust through your actions.

Regardless of your professional seniority or your perception of your ability to ‘add-value’ to the lives of the people who sit on your board, make a habit of asking them what you can do to help them. Small gestures like inviting them as your guest to an event or sharing an article or report that you know will be of interest to them, can also be quite powerful.

How to leverage your personal board.

As with many situations, you only get out what you put in.

Stay in contact with the people on your board in between the interactions where you are asking them to add value to you and your career. Share your wins and successes, and acknowledge their contributions when you achieve your goals.

Make your board diverse. A mix of backgrounds, expertise, seniority, gender, age, education, geography, and industry will provide you with broader perspectives and more tools to help you make the best decisions for your career.

Ensure you have at least one person on your board who you know will actively challenge you in your expectations, assumptions, reasoning, or decision-making. Cheerleaders are important, but a critical voice (or even just someone who thinks very differently to you), is also extremely valuable.

You are your most important asset.

Consider your career as a business you are working to build. You’re at the helm and you have done the work to understand your values, purpose, mission and goals. You have your strategy in place, now what?

Formalising a cohort of people to help guide you and support you on the journey of your career, in executing the strategy for your ‘business of one’, can be a powerful mechanism towards achieving success (whatever that means to you).

On average, we dedicate 90,000 hours of our lifetime to work. Most of us want our careers to be meaningful, to offer us progression (in role, responsibility, and compensation), and to feel truly valued for our efforts and contributions. However, many of us don’t believe we can influence those outcomes for ourselves. Engaging with a personal board is one way to elevate your power and understand the control you do have, to advance your career in an authentic way.


Author: Jessica Shakes

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