Building Your Personal Board of Directors

Published March 6, 2020

When times are tough (which they will be) being a founder can often feel like you are alone on an island. Having people to open up to and work your way through the troughs is key not only for your mental health, but your company’s health as well. Establishing a trusted circle of mentors, advisors, and peers, your personal board of directors, from day one is a great way to prepare for what lies ahead in your company building journey.

What is a personal board of directors?

A traditional board of directors is “ a group of people who jointly supervise the activities of an organization.” A personal board of directors is a group of individuals that can offer advice and direction for both personal and life decisions. Your personal board should be a trusted group you can lean on when making difficult decisions. Just as a board of directors holds an organization accountable, the same could be said for your personal board of directors.

Who should be in my personal board of directors?

Finding the right mix of individuals for your personal board of directors can be tricky. They should be a collection of individuals that are willing to give honest and candid feedback. Generally speaking, this means leaving family and close friends off of your board of directors. The team at Harvard Business Review suggests including a mixture of the following people:

  • “First, you need fans — people who support you and will deliver tough feedback with kindness and good intent.”
  • “Second, recruit potential sponsors — senior leaders who can advocate for you when it’s time for a promotion.”
  • “Third, include at least one critic. These people may be the toughest to approach, but they can be the most valuable.”

No one wants to face criticism; but it is an important aspect of personal and company growth. This mixture of individuals will be able to help with professional development, company strategy, and major life decisions. 

Assembling your personal board of directors

Asking people to be on your personal board of directors can be an intimidating tasks. We suggest building a list of people you would find to be a good fit (using the criteria from above). Start with your top choices and make your way down the list. If you get no response or a simple “no,” don’t fret. Simply move on to the next person on your list. If you’ve done your research and built a proper list most of the people should be eager to help you.

As we wrote in our post, “Startup Leaders Should Have Mentors. Here’s How to Find One,” we suggest when reaching out, “you should make sure to 1) explain why you’re reaching out to them specifically and 2) ask to meet with them once instead of asking them to commit right away. Those two things will make them much more likely to say yes.”

Well a personal board of directors can’t guarantee success it can certainly help as you struggle through the inevitable tough times of building a startup. If you’re interested in learning more about approach mentors and advisors, be sure to check out our mentors post here.

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