Three principles to ensure you are maximising the network and team around you

A good network and team are essential for any form of career success, and building a Personal Board is one way to ensure you are maximising the potential of your connections.

There are three guiding principles of any Personal Board. A Personal Board is a well-respected group of people with whom you have regular contact, and whose advice you will carefully consider (even if you end up not acting on that advice). It emulates a corporate board as a group of key advisors who meet to make strategic decisions about the recommended next steps for a person or organisation.

The Personal Board concept is an extremely simple one – that’s what makes it so effective. It’s highly flexible, extremely individualistic, and remarkably quick to set up. However, should you ever be concerned about any advice you are receiving, please refer back to these three principles. They can be used to address any concerns.

First principle: Trust and respect

You are going to be sharing a great deal of your external self with your Personal Board: your career plans, your goals, and your aspirations. You will also share a fair amount of your inner self: your reflections, your thoughts, and your insecurities.

With respect comes trust. If you’re not prepared to share all the details of your current situation – the context, your motivations and what makes you tick – the chances are that you’ll omit some relevant information, which will result in deficient advice from your Personal Board.

Transparency and vulnerability are needed, to present all the facts, so that any external advice can objectively drive the best outcomes. This will require a leap of faith since some of the people you identify as new board members will start off as relative strangers.

As always, the final decision on the level of transparency rests with you, especially as to what constitutes the appropriate level of information-sharing. For example, when talking to a senior person or relative stranger, you might choose to give a précis of the core facts and a high-level view of what you’re aiming to achieve. With a mentor or old friend, you’ll have a more in-depth conversation and share your feelings about a situation.

Respect and trust with strangers

One of the distinctions of a Personal Board – purposefully seeking people for new connections – is to extend your reach, knowledge, and opportunities in any industry. You might therefore be wondering how you can establish early trust with people you don’t know.

The best way to overcome ‘stranger danger’ is, again, by properly using your network. If you carefully ask your network for new connections, they will invariably connect you with trusted people in their network.

You’ll need to take the time to explain to the people in your network what you need and why you are looking for certain connections. To be able to ask for this favour, you will have to have built strong relationships in your network and be confident that the outcome will be successful. The trust is then implicit on both sides. If your network is sound, the people you ask will not want to let you – or the new connection – down with a bad experience.

Asking a relative stranger to connect you to another relative stranger will usually yield poor results. Similarly, if you don’t take the time to brief your connection properly, it’s likely that you won’t make a good connection with their introduction.

Asking for a connection from a strong, trusted person, who is well-briefed and who understands your needs, will usually deliver the best results.

Second principle: Regular engagement

A Personal Board has parallels with a corporate board: Those board members meet regularly to keep things shipshape. Similarly, as you move away from ad hoc advice and look to use your Personal Board strategically and for progression, you need to establish regular contact.

Regular contact doesn’t necessarily mean every day, every week or even every month, but it also doesn’t mean once in a blue moon. The ideal frequency of contact depends on the Personal Board member and how they are relevant to your goals. You will naturally speak with some more often than others at different stages of your progress.

By establishing regular contact, you can keep pace with your goals, your thinking, and your commitment to your plan. If you go too long without talking to your Personal Board members, they might forget the context of your story or miss an important development in your career, so set a reminder to check in with each member, even if only for a chat.

Third principle: Guidance and advice

Their advice, your decision.

Your Personal Board is your ‘brains trust’ – your advisory council. It’s there to guide you, advise you and bring you a fresh perspective. The keyword here, though, is guidance – it’s ultimately your choice which path you choose.

The downside of organic advisors

One of the pitfalls of organically gathering advisors is that you will often be taking advice from people who have a vested interest in your career path. If you take a moment to think about people you currently ask for advice, I imagine they will include some of the following characters:

•            Peers: People striving for the same promotions/pay rises as yourself

•            Senior staff: People you work for or who have a stake in your success

•            Business partners: Those with whom you have joint business interests

•            Your life partner: The person with whom you share financial and personal goals

I am not suggesting you need to go out in search of completely impartial people, but it’s important to ensure there is a balance among your advisors. Guiding and advising should be about helping you evaluate your options, but it’s your path, your choice, and your plan. You need to limit any possibility of manipulation for others’ gain.

Your Personal Board is there to help, but just like a corporate board, it’s down to the executives to make the final decision. In the case of You Inc., you are the CEO, so be confident in your decision-making and don’t worry about taking a different path. It’s your expertise and judgement that should set you apart. You are responsible for choosing whether to act on the advice you receive.

This is an adapted book extract from The Personal Board of You Inc. by Emma Maslen.