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Set Yourself Apart: Create Your Own Board of Directors

As a college student or a recent graduate, you might already have served on school or community committees or even been appointed to a position on an organization’s board of directors.

But have you ever thought about creating your own board of directors? It’s sort of like mentoring on steroids.

The idea is similar to turning to a group of life coaches, people you respect and can rely upon for counsel, not just about your work, but about life issues as well. These could range from an ethical dilemma with your boss, to how to handle a difficult task, a personal financial crisis or advice on starting a new business.

Business author Jim Collins, in an Inc. magazine story, says, “Look for board members who, while strong in their views, are nonjudgmental and compassionate. The best board members dispense wisdom like Socrates—by asking questions, drawing analogies, and making dispassionate observations.”

“It’s important to let your board members know that you don’t expect them to agree with you all the time,” says American Public University System business administration department chair Chad Patrizi. “In fact, you want members who can not only help guide you, but will also challenge you.”

Your board could consist of from six to nine people, though there is no magic number. You should include two or three people who know you well: a trusted friend, colleague, or sibling. Consider a professional colleague such as an accountant, attorney or banker. Be sure to include at least two people you admire, such as a respected professor, businessperson, civic leader or community activist.

Be reasonable: each person should be someone you know or who is willing to get to know you; who has time to help you and understands what you are asking of them.

It”s also best to choose people with whom you can build or maintain a long-term relationship. At the minimum, consider a commitment from each person for a period of at least one to three years. Since there won’t be any formal board meetings, just the opportunity for them to share their wisdom with you, it’s likely that most of those you invite will be glad to help, even flattered that you’ve asked.

Some suggest checking in with your board members only when you need help on a particular matter, and as a courtesy a few times a year. Others set up their board more formally, committing to certain goals and asking their board members to help hold them accountable.

Again, remember, this is your board. It is up to you how you create, manage and make the best use of it.One of the best ways is to start by writing your own personal business plan, detailing what you want to achieve over your lifetime. Once you have written your plan, arrange to meet with each of your board members for an informal meeting. Share your plan with them, leave a copy and ask for their frank comments and advice.

Then, plan for regular meetings to follow. You may find that meeting in person a few times a year is too difficult for some. Be flexible. A regular phone call might work best with some of your board members, with a follow-up written note or email.

The important thing is to have a plan and stay with it. Otherwise, you are not only wasting your own time, but that of all who have committed to helping you.

Having your own personal board of directors can help you grow professionally and personally, and prepare you to serve on someone else’s board sometime in the future, paying it forward.

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