Advisory boards, directly or indirectly, are part of our business lives. These boards are often in the background counseling or watching the backs of our management teams; they're helping steer
turnaround or growth of burgeoning businesses. They're five, 10 or 15 people strong. Not necessarily a board of directors, they are engaged individually to address very specific needs, and they
lend their collective firepower often in exchange for a bit of equity, additional sector visibility, or a nice quarterly dinner. You may rely on these boards or sit on them. And they seem increasingly
vital in these industrious times, when people and teams are continually pushing the rim of their own comfort zones.
If you are thinking about building a board, there's a lot of wisdom
to be shared on how to do it. I've been poking around on this front over the past year, and it's remarkable how obvious some of the published advice on how to build a board is. Like,
"Get help in the areas where you need it the most." Or, "Don't treat your advisory board like employees." Even, "Do your research and then get them on quickly."
Doesn't sound much different from arranging an obligatory dinner party for your spouse that you don't really feel like attending. Why take on the burden?Looks and
Feels Like a Mentor
At their best, advisory boards should truly mentor
a business. A good friend and business partner of mine, Carolyn Kepcher, does a lot of career coaching for
women, including talking to them about what makes for a strong mentoring relationship. Unlike the direct management relationship, there are nuances to the value exchange in these arrangements.
It's not always overt and may play out over time. I've never been one for formal mentoring in my own life. I have several secret mentors, people whom I watch, whose anecdotes I soak up, whose
actions I might emulate from time to time. Some of these interactions span back to my teens.
If we look at building an advisory board as looking for an excellent mentor, it follows that we
might think of these boards as sort of a super-mentor. Areas of coverage might include: helping secure short-term financing or seed capital; providing intelligence on the relevant merger &
acquisition landscape; making key client introductions that previously have been a challenge for our own team; or helping shore up the business plan. Stuff that counts.Looks and Feels Like an Advisory Board
On the flip side, it's interesting to take this down to a personal level. Recently, a friend whose career I respect shared an
interesting personal view. She not only has mentors, but she has a bit of an informal advisory board of her own: her very own ad hoc council, a small assembly of people within her network who are
there for her on specific professional areas that she is working on developing.
I liked my friend's idea a lot. It has even more legs than the individual mentor relationship. I
think about what the advisory board for Kendall Allen, LLC, might have looked like if I knew way back when what I would need to know as life roared on. I imagine an advisory who could:
- Counsel me on how to monetize my moonlighting in the earliest days of my career, as I made the move from print to interactive, without cannibalizing my emerging social life.
- Guide me early on how to manage up, especially during a crisis that I may or may not have caused myself.
- Demonstrate how to know when the bell tolls for
- How to conduct diligence on a management team you are considering joining, above and beyond the usual taking a peek at credentials.
- Balance my
inner company girl and entrepreneurial spirit when looking at new opportunities.
This list is half serious and half in jest. I think I figured most of these things out with a few times
around the block, some through innate judgment and some through learned skills. And, I've got the bell-tolling thing down.
I do think that because there's an art to
building the right advisory board for your company, there is something to be said for making it personal and thinking about it as mentoring. And in the process, why not create one for yourself? The
business life and the career path are no longer two linear propositions. So, the very idea of having a personal advisory board honestly reflects the diversity and intense array of things we have to
understand and work toward mastering today, as our business settings shift.