Great way to start the new year: set up a personal board of directors

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I may have set a new record for the shortest time from concept to
production for a podcast:  20 minutes ago, I shared on Twitter that my
best friend, Desiree Adaway, set up a personal board of directors last
year and just sent me her annual report.

Desiree is the Senior
Director of Volunteer Mobilization for Habitat for Humanity, and at the end of 2007 felt
the need to get expert advice and insight from people she trusted and
admired.  So following Jim Collin’s advice, she set up her own board.

Many people were interested in hearing her story, so I
called her up and recorded a podcast on the spot. It is about 16 minutes – listen here.  I hope you enjoy our
conversation in which we cover:

  1. What is a personal board of directors
  2. How to choose good members
  3. How to make sure the relationship is mutually beneficial
  4. How to get the most out of the mentoring relationship

Desiree and I learned of the concept from Jim Collins in Good to Great.  Here are a few articles which expand on the topic:

BusinessWeek:  Good to Great Expectations
In Jim’s own words from the Fast Company Design Conference in Phoenix, 2000:  Why have a personal board of directors?

Desiree was willing to share the introductory letter she sent to her perspective list of personal board members:


I am a fan of Jim Collins. About 5 years ago I read an
article he wrote for a magazine. It spoke of  an idea he came up w/ at the
Stanford Business school for his students:

you have a personal board of directors? I don’t mean a traditional corporate
board, nor do I mean an informal board of business advisors. I mean a personal
board of directors composed of seven people you deeply respect and would not
want to let down. A group like a set of tribal elders that you turn to for
guidance at times of ethical dilemma, life transitions, and difficult choices,
people who embody the core values and standards you aspire to live up to.

 I have been thinking of this concept more and more over the
past few years. Who are the folks that embody the core values that I aspire to
live up to?  Used well, a personal board helps one find creative alternatives
to life’s challenges and is a terrific place to turn for advice on handling
crises and ethical dilemmas.  The best personal boards contain a diverse
spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives.  I desire potential board
members that meet my standards of thoughtfulness, insight, and experience.
Respect for my board counts more than intimacy.  I am looking for
board members who, while strong in their views, are nonjudgmental and
compassionate. The best board members will dispense wisdom like Socrates—by
asking questions, drawing analogies, and making observations.

I would like humbly request that you become a member of my
board of directors.  Trust that if you accept this position I will be
extremely selective in how I use your time and when and how I will call on you.
I will only contact you for critical decisions.  What about “payments” to
my personal board members?  The best payment I can think of is  to
simply  emulate  you by giving time and guidance to others, especially
younger  people who need mentors. Additionally,   I promise to
keep you informed of my progress. In fact, in following Jim Collin’s advice I
will write a letter once a year or so to my board. My personal “annual report”
will help me take stock of my life on a yearly basis.

Please understand if you cannot take this task on, I
understand totally. If nothing else, just wanted you to know that I am a fan of
yours as well!

Thanks in advance!


Good luck to you if you decide to move forward with your own board!

If you want to reach Desiree, she is at dadaway (at) habitat (dot) org.  She doesn’t have a blog yet, but we can all work on her to start one. 🙂

Filed Under: Podcast

19 Responses to “Great way to start the new year: set up a personal board of directors”

  1. […] coach and Bottom-line Bookclub author, Pam Slim has to say about finding a bunch of great mentors: Set Up Your Personal Board of Directors This post is an excerpt from this month’s feature: The Bottom-line on John Carlin’s […]

  2. […] really dedicated to getting aspiring entrepreneurs up and going. Her primary advice is to get a Council of Elders or a personal board of directors. I highly suggest checking it […]

  3. That helps, Pam. It’s time for me to have one, esp. for a new project that’s emerged.

  4. Your post has on internet marketing is definitely true. Internet marketing has opened new ways of attracting visitors to the website giving the webmasters a way of earning cash as well as web status. Let’s see what the future holds for internet marketing.

  5. Wow! This is great! Each week, I hear about new concept that renews my enthusiasm and catapults me forward. Too bad I don’t hand out awards for it, because this would be one of them. Gonna go read up on Jim Collins now….

    ps: I think the article Desiree was referring to was this:

  6. Mark R says:

    I actually love the idea of a personal board. I have a circle of advisors in my grid and use them for counsel when needed. I have found it is important to not only get a personal BOD, but to have one or two who are willing and able to tell you when you are wrong. Hubris is a dangerous thing. Another thing I have found as I move forward, people you know tell you what you want to hear, while people you may not no well or who do not have a personal stake in you tell you what you need to hear.

    Listen to all, not just the yesses.


  7. Pamela Slim says:

    @Michael and @Stacie, thanks to you, I did the post!
    @Lisa – I am so glad Desiree shared the letter too! I think it helps to really know how to do it.
    @Stacie again — you are so right. I got hot under the collar w/Teemu’s comment, I shouldn’t over-react. 🙂
    @Iyabo – I am not sure of all the criteria she used – I do know that some were people she knew well, others that she knew less well. All accepted, which was great! You could email Des and ask her, I am sure she will help w/specific questions.


  8. Iyabo Asani says:

    I do have a followup question. I have not finished listening to audio but do you cover how she selected this board? Are they people she knew or people she just admired from a distance.



  9. Iyabo Asani says:

    Pam, I think this is a great blog post. Especially for the online entrepreneur like myself that works from home. I am new to this online business model having worked as a lawyer for 18 years and was solely dependent on my bricks and mortar business.

    I do not feel isolated now but I do not have as many people in my personal conversation as I used to be have when I went to the office every day.

    I want to look into this.

    Iyabo Asani

  10. Stacie says:

    Oh, Pam, Teemu’s stuff is so clearly, well, Teemu’s stuff. It’s too bad that Teemu decided to share that kind of useless criticism, and to include the strange jab of “you people,” but I’m just going to send Teemu some positive thoughts and hope that he/she finds another playground in which to play rough.

  11. Stacie says:

    Oh, Pam, Teemu’s stuff is so clearly, well, Teemu’s stuff. It’s too bad that Teemu decided to share that kind of useless criticism, and to include the strange jab of “you people,” but I’m just going to send Teemu some positive thoughts and hope that he/she finds another playground in which to play rough.

  12. Wow, what a great idea Pam and Desiree. This is a great way to incorporate valuable feedback and raise the bar on self-assessment. Thanks for the idea!

  13. Teemu says:

    Uh… you people. Why you want to call your family and friends a “board of directors”?

    Is it because you don’t have family anymore (in the common sense) and the word “friends” means some crowd in a Facebook?



    On the contrary, both Desiree and I have live, breathing, vibrant relationships with family and friends far outside of the internet. Our own friendship, as a matter of fact, formed 25 years ago in college and we have kept it alive with that formidable technological tool called the telephone.

    What, exactly, is so horrible about taking a sound concept from the business world and applying it in the personal world?

    If the shoe doesn’t fit, by all means, don’t wear it.

    But I would say that last time I checked, Miss Manners (in her antiquated place in print newspaper) said that calling someone “you people” was not polite.

    To each his or her own, so thanks for sharing your opinion.


  14. Lisa Gates says:

    Pam, I love that you took this a step further and showed Desiree’s letter. Gives a complete picture of the process. We use this very same idea in our workbook and it really moves our life’s biggest goals into the highest level of accountability.

    Thank you!

  15. Pamela Slim says:

    Hi Frank!

    I think the difference in the formal structure is thinking about your career and life growth in a more structured way, and in selecting very specific people that you can feel confident will be there for you for the “big” questions. Desiree does have tons of acquaintances and friends for the every day questions, but enjoys holding herself accountable (through the annual report and more formal structure) to people she truly aspires to be like.

    That is my thought anyway — it is definitely not for everyone, but can work well for others.

    Good to great is worth the re-read!


  16. Frank Paterra says:

    Thanks for posting this Pam. Its been a while since I read good to great so my question may be just a matter of my poor memory failing me but can you help me to understand why I need a formal personal board of directors? I believe I get all of the value of a board from my personal network of friends and business associates. I have a very large group of people that I can ask for help and they have a very diverse set of backgrounds. It would seem to me that a restricted set of people, such as 7 in the BOD, would end up having less value.



  17. Stacie Somers says:

    Thanks for this, Pam! What a wonderful idea – really do appreciate you sharing!

  18. Pam,

    Incredible! You did an amazing thing here in an unbelievable time period. It attests to the power of Twitter and you own value to everyone you serve.

    Thank you.