The Handcrafted All-Star Team, Your Personal Board of Directors

Photo by Austin Chan

Corporate Board of Directors: a group of people elected by shareholders to represent their interests. Not responsible for day-to-day decision making, the board provides high-level guidance for the ultimate success of the company.  Usually found at public & private companies, and nonprofits. (sources)

But why should a board of directors be limited to billion-dollar public companies or highly funded startups? What if we took the concept of a corporate board and applied it to our individual lives? What if everyone had their own Personal Board of Directors

Personal Board of Directors: a core team of trusted people an individual can turn to for assistance with career and personal growth. 

Everyone should have their own Personal Board of Directors — and it’s easier than you think to make it happen. There won’t be a formal induction ceremony, quarterly meetings, or compensation. Heck, the members don’t even have to know they’re on your board. But there is incredible value in crafting a team to assist in your development.

A Personal Board of Directors can help:

  • Give advice – In its purest form, they help you navigate difficult situations. People to call, text, or email when you’re stuck on something. They can also facilitate a retro meeting to help put rejections in perspective.
  • Keep you on track – It’s good to have someone hold you accountable for reaching (and setting) goals. 
  • Call you on your bullshit – Sometimes brutal honesty is needed to get back on track. 
  • Introduce you to others – Just like a corporate board, your Personal Board may have a strong network and can introduce you to the right people at the right time. 

My board of directors is comprised of a couple family members, an industry expert I met at an event, my prior manager, and multiple friends. They’ve most recently helped me refine a proposal for a potential client and bounce around ideas on future business trends.

How to create your own Personal Board of Directors

No need to look far because you have ideal candidates within your existing network. Contemplate each person’s strengths, skills, and background for a well-rounded team.

Some people to consider:

  • Prior coworkers
  • Family
  • Friends
  • People you’ve met at conferences and events
  • Your LinkedIn connections 
  • People you’ve recently asked for feedback

There’s flexibility in how to communicate with your Personal Board of Directors. One option is to simply not alert every member of your board that they’re actually on your board. Depending on your relationship, it can be challenging to discuss (and about half of my board is in this stealth mode).

However, there’s tremendous value in being more open. It benefits you because they can be on the lookout for different ways to assist — or knock you back on track. It helps them because you’re recognizing their advice, guidance, and experience. More importantly, it creates a level of trust because you’re expressing a desire for growth and including them on that journey.

If you think someone would appreciate the transparency, you can say something like, “Hey Julie, I really appreciate your guidance and consider you a member of my Personal Board of Directors”. That will spark a deeper discussion where you can explain the concept and why you cherish their collaboration. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your board. Start today. Your future self will thank you.


The New Manager Series

Photo by Amy Hirschi

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that again,” I asked my manager. 

“Sure,” he smiled, “I said, congrats, you’ll be leading a team starting next month.”

And with that, I entered the world of management. 

After working diligently at the same company for two years I was now a manager, responsible for growing and developing a team. My employer was restructuring it’s services department, and I was chosen to lead a small team of 3 technical consultants. 

After my brain was able to fully process the news, I cracked a smile, and a few emotions ran through my system:

Joy. I’ve always wanted to lead a team and it was finally happening!

Pride. My hard work has paid off — I can’t wait to tell my parents and friends.

Appreciation: I’m thankful my efforts have been recognized.

But as I stepped outside the conference room and plopped down at my desk, a few different emotions rushed through my body.

Fear. Uncertainty. Apprehension.

I’ve never managed a team before — how the hell will I do this? My company doesn’t have any semblance of a training program — I’m going to have to figure this out on my own…and fast. 

Opening my laptop to resume the day’s work, I did what we all do when faced with life’s big questions — I Googled it. What I found was thousands of articles and books on general management techniques. What I did not find was focused guidance on helping the first-time manager navigate uncharted territory.

What I found was “12 Ways to Better Connect With Your Team”. What I needed was the best way for a new manager to connect with her team after working together as peers.

What I found was “Interview Questions Used by Top Tech Companies”. What I wanted was how a first-time manager should approach building a team.

What I found was “Management Advice From Fortune 500 CEOs”. What I craved was the new mental model I’d need to shift from a high performing individual contributor into a world-class manager. 

Closing my laptop with a sigh of apprehension — I knew was in for a bumpy ride. 

Fast forward a couple years and my initial responsibilities had morphed into a team of twenty-five people across five continents and nearly 24/7 coverage. How did I make it out alive? It wasn’t the groomed management training program and mentorship program of yesteryear. I suppose you could call me a student in the Management School of Hard Knocks. That’s to say, I figured it out as I went along — observing the best managers in the company (luckily, mine was one of them), lapping up any advice I could get my hands on, and just plain making a ton of mistakes.

I may have made it out alive, but it was a rough journey. As I think back on those initial years as a manager, I know there just has to be a better way. The more people I see promoted to management roles, the more I realize that companies aren’t properly preparing them for the road ahead. In fact, 87% of managers wish they’d had more training before becoming a manager. Proper management training and mentoring has been replaced with the fingers crossed mentality of “you’ve been a great worker so far and we know you’ll just figure it out”. 

In a step towards a world with more well-rounded and better prepared managers, this article marks the official kick-off of my “New Manager Series”  — a collection of wisdom specifically designed for first-time managers. Consider this my senior thesis before I officially graduate from the Management School of Hard Knocks 

Before we begin, I have two favors to ask:

  1. Do you know anyone that recently stepped into their first management role? If so, spread the word. This, and all future New Manger Series (NMS) posts, will help jump start their foray into Management . They can also receive article email alerts by signing up here.
  2. Do you have any management stories or advice? I’d love to include them in a future post. Comment below or drop me an email.

And now, without further ado, the New Manager Series.

Goals Have Changed

There’s a good chance you were promoted to manager after establishing yourself as a top performer. You worked on the most important projects and were responsible for the toughest clients. Your goal was to attack the assignment, execute flawlessly, and (if you’re lucky) celebrate for a few minutes before moving onto the next one. 

You were the star wide receiver — catching a sideline pass, evading defenders, scoring, and spiking the ball in victory:

But the moment you became a manager, your position on the field of business changed. You no longer score the points — you are now the entire offensive line:

As a manager, your job is not to obtain individual success. You win when your team wins. 

What often makes this transition more challenging is that your manager likely failed to communicate these new success metrics. Imagine a football coach telling a receiver that he’d now be on the offensive line, but to “just keep on doing what you’re doing”. Needless to say, a lineman trying to catch touchdowns is going to cause problems.

Even when you recognize your position has changed, it’s hard to shift your mental model to the new normal. Scoring is fun. Working on the best projects is sexy. Being a blocker seems kind of…boring. The necessity to develop this new mental framework is a major contributor to the challenging transition from individual contributor to manager.  And like all big changes, this transformation will take time. The key is to detach your value — both your personal value and to the business — from your ownership of projects. When you reach a tipping point in your transformation, you’ll know it. I remember turning the corner during a one-on-one meeting where a team member was showing me a recent project she completed — and my eyes welling with tears of pride. 

The manager wins when her team wins, and, just like an offensive lineman, the manager does the little things to help her team score:

  • Solve problems. Sometimes you’ll be able to answer the questions yourself. But more often, you just have to point them in the right direction. 
  • Clear a career path. A person’s potential for growth is a major contributor to their overall job satisfaction. Growth is the combination of skill development and career path. You’re responsible for both of these factors, but a career path is like a trail in the woods — if left ungroomed, it will overgrow and eventually disappear. It’s your job to work with your team to find everyone’s unique path and diligently protect it from decay.
  • Acquire necessary resources. You’ll encounter situations where your team needs something outside of your immediate control. The onus is on you to make the internal case and acquire the needed resources. Maybe they’re overworked and additional headcount is needed. Or there’s a new software tool that will prevent everyone from unnecessary manual work. Your task is to find a way to make it happen. 
  • Avoid distractions. Work distractions happen all the time and your mission is to keep your team protected from these constant threats. This may be an unruly client who is knocking down morale, internal politics that is causing negativity to swirl around the office, or shifting priorities across competing projects. Distractions can take many forms, and you need to be on the prowl for anything threatening the teams productivity. Once identified, you step in to protect your team — just like an offensive lineman shielding his team from pesky defenders. 

Always be on the lookout to clear a path for your team to help make their jobs easier  — because they’re the ones scoring points. 

Introducing PrimoBooks

As I’ve shared before, I love to read. This means I’m constantly on the hunt to figure out what to read next. Life is short and it’s just not feasible to read every half decent book out there. I prefer to invest my time with the books that have influenced people at the top of their game. So I’m always curating book recommendations from successful individuals — soaking up guidance from podcast interviews, articles, or passing conversation. 

I was frustrated by my scattershot approach and couldn’t shake the thought, “there just has to be a better way”. And once again, the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” was proven true.

I’m excited to announce the launch of PrimoBooks — a website to discover incredible books recommended by the world’s smartest and most interesting people. PrimoBooks aggregates, organizes, and surfaces the favorite books from a wide range of successful people. From Rick Rubin to Ellen DeGeneres. From Angela Merkel to Daymond John

You can also narrow your search and browse by book genre to find the top books in different categories. From biographies to technology. From business to science fiction

A big thanks to Brody Bunsa for sourcing and organizing all the initial data. Over time, we’ll continue to add new books and corresponding recommenders to make the site even more powerful. 

I hope you enjoy PrimoBooks and would love to hear your feedback!

Happy Reading,

P.S. The single book recommended by the most people? The current leader: The Brothers Karamazov