Do You Have a Personal Board of Advisors?

One of the best ways to help you navigate the rough waters of your job and career is to have your own support network – a personal board of advisors. This board of advisors (or board of directors, as some call it) is a collection of about 6 to 10 people who know you, are interested in your well-being, and provide useful points of view to assist you in moving forward in your career and in other areas of your life. This board of advisors is essentially a group of mentors, peers, friends, and possibly a leadership coach or a career coach.

To identify your personal board of advisors, think about the types of advice that might assist you, some new perspectives that you should probably gain, and who can provide it. Start by listing the names of people who have assisted you in the past by giving you useful advice and offering new insights. Consider people who inspire you, support your values and/or your vision, and believe in you. In thinking of potential board members, focus on the person, not their job title.

A diversity of backgrounds and perspectives is also important when forming your personal board of advisors. What are the special attributes that they should bring to the table? You might want individuals who serve one or more of these roles:

Sage – Someone who provides you with expert advice and wisdom based on their direct previous experience.

Clarifier – Someone who asks you keen questions to help raise your awareness and see with new eyes.

Brainstormer – Someone who lends a strong hand in identifying the possibilities and your options.

Iconoclast – Someone who thinks outside the box and doesn’t always offer the conventional wisdom.

Connector – Someone who knows everyone and can help lead you to others.

Challenger – Someone who serves as a devil’s advocate in challenging your plans and your thinking.

Cheerleader – Someone who boosts your spirits, especially when things are not going as you had planned.

Accountability Enforcer – Someone who helps to ensure that you follow through on your commitments.

Joker – Someone who brings you back to earth when needed and reminds you not to take yourself too seriously.

Champion – Someone who advocates for you and trumpets your abilities and accomplishments.

A personal board with all of these voices will likely serve you well.

When you reach out to prospective members of your advisory board, consider whether you wish to be explicit about their position on your board. Some people will likely be flattered if you ask them directly to serve on your personal board. Other people might be wary of the time and energy commitment associated with the role of “advisor.” As long as the individuals are willing to connect with you and provide you with valuable advice and support, you don’t always have to tell them directly that you consider them to be on your “personal board of advisors.” You’ll need to make that decision based on your preferred approach as well as the likely reaction of each prospective advisor you plan to recruit onto your board.

Next, decide how you would like to engage your board. For example, you could set aside one day each month on your calendar to connect via email or phone. Or you could schedule lunch, coffee, or another get-together with each advisor every couple of months or so. You also could decide to convene your board as a group for a scheduled meeting. This approach obviously works best in the case where you have been explicit with them about the advisor role and the level of commitment to serve on your board. Regardless of your approach, you should consult all of your advisors at least every 6 months.

Lastly, remember that you receive by giving. Don’t treat your board of advisors as a free, one-way advice machine. In your interactions with the members of your board, find out how you might be able to assist them as well.

Do you have a personal board of advisors?

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Jeremy Ames

Great piece Scott, I especially liked the concept of the “Clarifier” and “Joke” roles. Mentoring is often talked about as an essential part of career development, but there is surprisingly little written about how to seek it out. Your PBA idea seems to go beyond traditional mentoring to integrate peer-to-peer support.

So will you consider serving on my PBA?


Great piece. I’ve often thought of my PBA and have a few people I consider as part of it. However I never had thought of it in terms of those roles. Which I think is important as diversity in thought and roles is essential in getting advice.

Lovisa Williams

Great post! Something we should all think more about both in serving as mentors/board members and within our current networks.

Deborah Rexon

Nicely done! And yes I have my own “kitchen cabinet” that I rely upon to advise me in different situations and capacities. I hope to share your post with them too!

Dave Atkins

I’ve thought about this…but I think it would weird people out to actually ask them to be “on my board.” I think it makes sense informally though to achieve the end results you describe. The concepts of coach, mentor, advisor, etc. are familiar to people in the career advice world but still sound lame to most people who don’t believe in this stuff.

Ray Blunt

Well done, Scott. This is a very valuable practice and moreso as responsibility increases. I know many people who practice this and some even include older, retired folks who occupied the same or similar positions. My experience in teaching this idea to senior people is that they really do “get it” and that a “board” sometimes has a clearer role meaning than mentor or coach since the two are often confused.

K. Scott Derrick

Jeremy — Thanks for your comments. How true. A mentor is one person. In today’s world, a TEAM of advisors is the way to go.

Steve — Yeah, the role(s) of your advisors is so important. You can make it an exercise and write down the names of your advisors next to these associated roles. If there are any holes, you’ll know where to look.

Lovisa — Great point. Thank you for your comments.

Deborah — Good idea. Keep us posted on their reactions to the post.

Dave — Yeah, being explicit with an invitation to serve on your board will seem weird to some. Some folks have had success with that approach; others prefer the less direct method.

Ray — Great point. Mentor and coach are often confused. The key is to focus on the role rather than the “title.” As always, thank you very much for your valuable input!

Naomi A. Williams

This is so timely because yesterday I was just reading the part of “Never Eat Alone” that goes through the steps for creating your Relationship Action Plan (RAP) and that is step 3; Create a Personal Board of Advisors. Excellent write up on this step.

K. Scott Derrick

Naomi — Thanks for your comments. I haven’t read that book yet, but I have heard good things about it. The author Keith Ferrazzi has a new book out Who’s Got Your Back. I’ll be reading that one next week during some upcoming air travel. Thanks again…

Carol Davison

This is a fabulous article! Can’t believe it took me two years to find it. I guess this student is ready because the teacher showed up!