Who’s in your corner? — A guide to forming your personal advisory board.

My first job was at People’s Drug Store. I worked there part time a few evenings a week, and like many teens at that time, my work permit granted me early access to the “real world” and my own finances aka a license to freedom. My boss was a chain smoker and it was still a time when smoking was allowed just about anywhere. She would bark orders at me while puffing on Virginia Slims in the back office of the store. I would swallow a choke every time I went to get my timecard signed. She was unfriendly, but she wasn’t mean, and every night after getting home from my shift, I’d reach for the phone to call my best friend or my older sister and vent about the unfavorable conditions of my daunting job experience.

We all remember significant blips on the radar of our work experience. We may even know how those blips came together to form the galaxy of what is now the breadth of our wisdom, skills and experience. But do we remember who was there to help celebrate our wins, or help us navigate our challenges? Was it anyone at all? I’ve had a personal advisory board (PAB) since my People’s Drug Store days. I may not have realized then that’s what it was, but those conversations and debriefs about my work day helped to shape my decision-making process. These touchpoints with a small, trusted group of individuals in your life either help to provide you the strength needed to continue on the path or in some cases the gumption you need to take another route. As you evolve, so does the group and it becomes what it needs to be based on where you are in your life and career.

No matter the industry, the role, or the number of years on your career path, you need a circle of trust. A personal advisory board is a sounding board for your ideas and a helpful guide when you’re navigating your day to day experiences or when you’ve reached a crucial crossroads. Here are a few things that I’ve learned when forming, or reforming a PAB:

Don’t just choose your close friends — Neutrality is key in having a strong PAB. While you crave the comfort of your trusted friends and the “we’ve got your back” chant when you’re in a tough spot, sometimes too much of that comfort may not actually help you to ask yourself the tough questions, see the big picture and create movement. My PAB today has one trusted friend who always gives me direct advice and high fives too. We explore concepts and share inspirational and evidence-based information. We rehearse speeches with each other and sometimes forward information along that supports our growth and well-being. A PAB should sometimes function like a networking group and like any networking group, there should be equal parts commiserating and equal parts advising and sharing of information among or between everyone. Darla Beggs in a 2014 Inc. magazine article wrote, “take inventory of your own strengths and weaknesses. Strive to surround yourself with advisors who fill those gaps.”

Don’t just convene when the going is tough — Don’t expect to only contact your PAB members when you’re in crisis, then provide a hurried and abbreviated summary of all that’s happened to get to this point, and expect a well-crafted, sound response that hits the mark. Even if Oprah the great were on your PAB, she couldn’t pull that off every time! You’ve got to give to get. Touch base regularly with everyone. Be consistent. This is your inner circle of advisors and they need to have as much context as possible to contribute effectively. Your experiences along the way could help them to navigate a challenge of their own or it could be information they eventually pass along to someone else who finds it inspiring.

Mentors are meant for this — One of the most valuable members of your PAB is a mentor. There’s magic in advice that comes from a place of experience and the more experience, the better. If you don’t already have a mentor, explore your LinkedIn network or your staff pool to find someone whose experience, work ethic, community contributions, personality and communication style resonates with you. Mentors don’t have to be in your field, department or industry. As long as they have walked a longer walk, they have sage advice to share.

Less is more — Having a PAB with many people also means many perspectives which could lead to a lack of clarity. Too many people means more noise. Your goal is to have sound advisors whose thoughtfulness, superb listening skills and integrity can help you to consider well and choose wisely. In my opinion, 3 is a good number of members to start with. As you grow, the membership will grow, lessen, shift and adjust with your needs. It is not uncommon to have a different membership than the one you started with because it is not unusual to outgrow your PAB or they, you. Sometimes you may get to a point where the well of concepts, resources or ideas has run dry. In fact, if you’re truly growing this is exactly what will happen. Stay aware and resourceful as you evolve and all else will come together nicely.

The choice is always yours — When faced with a decision, be sure to think through the advice you get from your PAB but make the decision for yourself. You are the director of your movie. Don’t decide based on what you’ve been told, but rather consider the advice and resources you’ve been given by your personal advisory board to make your own choice. No matter what the circumstance or dynamic is always make sure that you take care to maintain a safe space that challenges and nurtures you to be your best self.

Culture, org health, self development, leadership and inspiration things. Building one bridge at a time. A blog by Shelly Henriquez-Neill, M.A., ODCP

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