Assembling a personal board of directors may sound daunting, but it’s an easier task than you might think. For one thing, being on someone’s board is less work than becoming a mentor, often making a person more willing to do it. Your board members don’t even have to know they’re on your board; that’s just how you’re seeing them. They think they’re occasionally waxing profound on their great knowledge. 

Here’s how to develop your board.

Go with who you know.

Think about what kind of advice you need, and who among the people you know, and respect could give it. This might be a former colleague or supervisor you had a great relationship with, a parent’s friend, a parent of a friend, an alumnus from your school, a buddy from your ultimate frisbee team, a former co-worker, a former professor or even someone you’ve heard speak who seems reasonably accessible (probably not someone as famous as Brené Brown, but maybe someone like me). When I decided that I wanted to become a non-executive director on corporate boards, for example, I reached out to women I knew who were already serving in this capacity.

Follow ‘warm leads.’

Your personal network may be too limited to really help you grow, especially in the beginning of your career. Look for ‘warm leads’ — potentially valuable connections of people you know — and ask to be introduced to them. You can find these kinds of connections to others by looking at their LinkedIn page, on alumni websites and/or industry organisations they belong to. If you have your eye on someone with no clear personal connection, look for some shared experience, however tenuous. I recently had someone reach out through social media who highlighted the fact that we were alumni of the same company (though we didn’t work there at the same time). She wrote an emotional plea for help finding a company open to diversity. To me, that was a request worth answering, and I made the time to talk to her.

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Make a specific request.

Reach out by email, phone or in person (if it’s someone you see regularly). Share your genuine admiration for some aspect of this person’s work, then ask for 15 minutes of their time to talk about a few career questions you have, or for a more general informational interview.

Keep the conversation going.

It’s up to you to build this relationship. Generally, it’s a good idea to email or call quarterly to ask if they have time for a check-in by phone or video conference or to join you for coffee, if this feels appropriate. If you run into a board member naturally at work events (or at the dining table, if it’s an in-law), ask to sit down for a career chat.

Be interested in them.

Your board members should be people you like and are interested in as human beings. Show this interest by asking about their projects or passions during your quarterly check-ins. Inquiring about the amazing things in someone else’s life helps maintain and develop a real relationship and prevents it from feeling transactional. You want to strike a balance between showing genuine interest in your sponsor and getting the help you need, while also respecting their time.

Be on a board.

Make sure to pay it forward by joining someone else’s board and making time to give advice when asked. This is the best way to honour the efforts of those who have helped you along the way.

This guest post was authored by Aliza Knox 

Aliza Knox built and led APAC businesses for three of the world’s top technology firms—Google, Twitter and Cloudflare. Named 2020 APAC IT Woman of The Year, she spent decades as a global finance and consulting executive, and is now a non-executive board director and a senior advisor for Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Aliza now shares her passion and lessons learned with the next generation of business leaders, guiding companies across new frontiers while building and maintaining strong connections between teams around the world.

Knox has been featured in outlets like Business Insider, Quartz, The Muse, TechCrunch and The Economic Times, and is a regular columnist for Forbes, where she shares her wisdom (and humor) to help professionals who dream of “doing it all.” She’s the author of the new book Don’t Quit Your Day Job: The 6 Mindshifts You Need to Rise and Thrive at Work[Wiley, April 25, 2022], which presents the six empowering, essential mindshifts necessary to rise and thrive in your career – and to love your life at the same time.

Excerps with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Don’t Quit Your Day Job by Aliza Knox with Wendy Paris. Copyright © 2022 by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and eBooks are sold. 

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