Career Success

What’s the Right Composition for a Personal Advisory Board?

By Mike BergelsonMarch 11, 2014

Understand the value of having a personal advisory board? Check.  Know how to build your board? Check.  But what’s the right composition for the board? Getting the ideal mix of people is a key part of the board’s success. Here are a few pointers.

1. Start With Your Goals

What do you hope to get from your personal advisory board meetings? Do you have specific goals or targets you need help with? Being clear about your goals will help you select the right people to invite to your personal advisory board. 

In her guide to developing a personal advisory board, consultant Susan Hammond provides a useful template for mapping out your goals and using them to identify the right people to help you achieve them. 

Start by taking stock of where you are right now in your career and personal life. Then define what your success would look like, and what resources you need to achieve it. 

When you’ve done that, you can start to create profiles for the advisors you’re looking for. What skills and personality traits do they have, and how will they help you reach your goals?

2. Target the Skills You Lack

It’s important to really be honest about your weaknesses.  That way, you can find advisors who can really help you improve.

One creative business consultant made sure to get a CFO on his board, “because running numbers and thinking about his business from a purely financial perspective isn’t his forte.”

It’s tempting when constructing a personal advisory board to ask people you already know well, which can lead to choosing people with similar backgrounds and skills. But it’s important to consider the range of skills people bring, and try to create a well-rounded board. 

Check your own performance evaluations, or psychometric test results if you have any, and try to create a board of people with skills that you lack.

3. Multiple Levels 

A good strategy is to have some people in your personal advisory board who are more senior than you, and some who are at your level. 

That way you can combine the benefits of hierarchical mentoring and peer mentoring. You can rely on the more senior people for the benefit of their experience, and work with your peers to share goals and hold each other accountable.

4. Different Personality Types

It’s important to have different types of people on your board, so that you can get the right help when you need it. This article advises creating a personal advisory board of six different characters: 

  • The Mogul
  • The Idea Person
  • The Doer
  • The Motivator
  • The Wise One
  • The Local

You can come up with your own list, based on what you think you’ll need from your personal advisory board. The important thing is to have a range of people with different skills, so that you can generate unique points of view, as well as having some interesting discussions if you meet in person.

5. Include People Who Don’t Know Each Other

Cast a wide net. When it comes to personal advisory boards, a little distance is a good thing.

Management professors Shoshana Dobrow and Monica Higgins made an interesting finding when studying “developmental networks” – another term for personal advisory boards. They looked at the “density” of people’s networks, by which they meant “the extent to which the members of the  network know and/or are connected to one another.”

What they found was that “developmental network density … is negatively related to clarity of professional identity.”

In plain English, that means that the more the people on your personal advisory board are connected to each other, the less able you are to develop your own professional identity. A broader network, including people from varied backgrounds, is more effective.

So look beyond your immediate friends and colleagues, making contacts with people in other organizations, other industries and perhaps other parts of the country or even the world. 

Thanks to mentorship and advisory board expert Susan Hammond (@SusanCHammond) for her contributions to this article

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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