Leadership   //   January 24, 2024

How to create your own personal board of directors

This article is one of a three-part series focused on how to maximize efficiency and productivity and start the year strong, during what historically has been one of the lowest-performing months – January. 

Individual mentorships are out, personal boardrooms are in.

Having a mentor is beneficial, but it doesn’t need to be limited to one person. Just as reverse mentorship widened the traditional definition beyond the typical age parameters, now the concept of creating one’s own personal board of directors is on the rise.

With this approach, an individual has a group of people to rely on for mentorship and career advice in different areas. For example, one person might be able to help them with growing their network, while another person might help them navigate their personal finances. There can be anywhere between five and 10 people, they can be of all ages and span many different industries.

But how does one actually go about creating this personal boardroom? We talked to individuals who have created their own over the years to find out how they did and why it’s been more impactful than just having a single mentor. 

1. Figure out why you want a personal board of directors

Danielle Farage, a Gen Z entrepreneur, is one of those people. She describes her personal board of directors as “a group of people that are collectively coming together to provide you with the type of support or guidance a mentor would.” Her advice for someone who is looking to create their own is to navigate what you’re looking to get out of it or where you want to grow and go from there. 

A time someone might really consider building themselves a board of directors is early in their career or if they are pivoting their career, but it can also happen at any point. There aren’t many guidelines around it. 

2. Who should be on it?

This is subjective, depending on an individual’s needs and preferences. Farage knew someone who set up their personal board of directors to mirror a C-suite. The person at the center was the CEO, the CFO helped them with financial decisions like investing and retirement plans, the CTO helped them with making sure they were updated in the tech world, the CMO helped them make sure they were proactive in marketing themselves, and so on. 

But it doesn’t always need to look like that. It could have a less rigid structure, where each person doesn’t necessarily have a specific role. Or, maybe the roles they do have are more laid back. Another person in Farage’s life had a board of directors that included someone who was a peer mentor, someone who was a “friend-tor”, and someone who was a life coach. 

Hollis Guerra, senior vp at DBC Brand Communications, built a board with eight people, who range from peer level to folks who can help her dream big. “Each of them have a specific purpose,” she said. 

If you’re not sure exactly who to ask, Emma Maslen, founder and CEO of sales consultancy inspir’em and author of “The Personal Board of You Inc.,” says that you can find most people in three to four leaps. That means thinking of the people you know, and then who they know, and so on. 

“Identifying and building relationships takes time,” said Maslen. “If you are dealing with someone one recommendation away, trust the connection.”

“Identifying and building relationships takes time. If you are dealing with someone one recommendation away, trust the connection.”
Emma Maslen, author and founder and CEO of sales consultancy inspir’em.

She says it could take anywhere between three to six months to build out a solid personal board of directors.

3. Make sure everyone understands the commitment it requires

Whatever way you decide to organize your personal board of directors, it’s important for the people you ask to understand why you want their assistance and what their involvement will look like moving forward. 

Some people might ask their board of directors to meet on a monthly or quarterly basis to talk about feedback for your life, while others might meet with each board member separately. If you decide to go with the latter, that person should understand that they are a mentor who is working alongside multiple other mentors in your life. And for the former, it’s important to ensure that the person is OK with a commitment like that. 

“People’s time is worth money,” said Farage. “It can be a lot to ask people to join a personal board of directors. I think it’s fine to have less structure.”

“People’s time is worth money. It can be a lot to ask people to join a personal board of directors. I think it’s fine to have less structure.”
Danielle Farage, a Gen Z entrepreneur.

That’s why Farage decided to take an approach that includes “friend-tors,” mentorships that aren’t so rigid, to take the pressure off. She’ll ask people on her board of directors different things at different times like: “Can you provide me feedback on this pitch?,” and “what are your thoughts on my fee?”

Guerra took a similar approach where she doesn’t require everyone to meet, but there is consistent communication.

4. Consider asking them in a fun way

While not necessary, Farage says the cherry on top to solidifying a board of directors could include a sentimental gift of some sort. 

“Ask people in a way that is in their love language,” said Farage. “Maybe that’s a card in the mail, or it’s sending a bottle of scotch or a custom coffee mug. Something that reflects who you are and comes from the heart. It’s something to say: ‘Hey, welcome to the club.’”

5. Let it grow from there

Once you make the segue into having a personal board of directors rather than just one mentor, it will take some time to figure out what dynamic really works best for you and supporting your career growth. To put it into perspective, Guerra has worked with her personal board of directors for the last five years.

It’s especially valuable today when most people don’t stay in the same job for their entire career and often need support navigating what’s next.

“Everyone brings a different perspective,” said Guerra. “Why hold yourself to one mentor when you can have many? … I definitely recommend it. As you build it, provided it’s with the right people, the support you get is really invaluable.”

Maslen says one way to know if your personal board of directors has been successful is if you can say: “I would’ve never seen that opportunity unless they said ‘hey, let me help you get there.’”

And Guerra can say just that. She wouldn’t have made the jump to leave her last role and company after being there for a decade if it hadn’t been for the support from her board of directors.

She was seven months pregnant and had a tenure and a maternity plan. Could she make a career move at that time? Several people on her board of directors are working mothers themselves, which helped in terms of support and empathy for the situation. “They get it,” said Guerra. “You’re always on, either first shift getting the kids to daycare/school, then your job-job, then another shift in the evenings with your children. Let alone sick days, snow days. So it was amazing to have that insight and perspective when looking to make the best choice for you, your career, and your family.”

“My board of directors helped me see that when the right company comes along, you make that jump of faith,” said Guerra. “They were supportive and helped assuage those fears and anxieties to take the calls, take the interviews and take the job.”