I have always been a believer in the concept that each of us needs our own personal board of directors – a group of people we can pull together four times a year to share where we are, our strategies for what is ahead and receive candid feedback and guidance.



In her talk at the Executives Club in Chicago,”Building a Personal Board– Powerful Relationships that Last” Carol Bernick, Executive Chairman of the Board, Alberto Culver Company, outlined her strategies for building a Personal Board:



  • The smartest people I know ask for help.  Ask for help and seek advice from all facets of your life – work, family community.  Out of all of the people that you know, ask yourself who can help and who really cares?  With that, be very selective as you build your posse


  • I have a core posse made up of family, girlfriends and 10-12 business executives I can call on any time I need to test an idea.


  • The key elements that make a person a contributor as a personal director are strength, smarts and a illingness to push back when needed.


  • Take advantage of every opportunity to look for a new director:  your corporate board work, not- for-profit boards, speakers or participants at industry events who impress you with their insights and a genuine openness.  Be thoughtful and make the connection.  This isn’t for a list of Facebook friends.  This is a circle who will really care about you.


  • An important part of your life today is probably giving back to your community with sweat equity, dollars, your insights and passion.  I have found the people I’ve met through this kind of shared commitment to be an invaluable resource in helping me address all kinds of issues.


Next, in her presentation, “Key Traits to Look  for When Putting Together your ‘Personal Board’”Christy Carpenter, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, The Paley Center for Media, offered these tips:


  • It is essential to have a core group of friends and professional acquaintances who will give me the straight scoop as well as the encouragement and emotional support I need.   Because of the informality of my group, I feel more comfortable thinking of them as my “kitchen cabinet” than a board. 


  • When it comes to our professional lives, I do think there is real value in consciously developing a group of advisors who extend beyond our close friends, who you feel comfortable calling on as issues and important decisions arise.  My experience suggests making sure this group offers some key traits and expertise. 


  • First, you want people you trust have your best interests at heart and with whom you’re comfortable.  If you don’t feel safe to let your hair down, you may not get advice that’s truly on target.  Trust is essential. 


  • Secondly, they should also be people who will give you honest feedback and not simply tell you what you want to hear.   Feedback, whether negative or positive, will flow more freely and be easier to receive if it comes from people who know you and care about you.


  • Thirdly, you want a range of expertise and perspective.  Don’t only pick people who mirror your own background, skill set, and life experience.  Make sure they have the expertise that you lack.


  • Fourthly, by all means include people who think big and who will push you to reach for more than you might imagine possible.   Women are often more likely to doubt themselves than men.  We need to make sure we get the jolt we need if we’re wallowing in self-doubt or thinking small in terms of our careers and our potential impact on the world. 


  • Other people sometimes see us more clearly than we see ourselves.  It’s really helpful to get feedback – some of which may point out weaknesses, of course – but we also need feedback and inspiration that gets us to open up, to dream, and to take action to manifest a bigger role for ourselves.  We all need to make sure that we’re aligning with our passions even if it’s a leap to get there.  So find at least one person inclined to push you to be bolder.  Someone who really believes in you and is inclined to ask, “why not?”


  • And lastly, in considering your board, I’ve found it helpful to reflect on those one or two people who have had the biggest impact on us and whose voices we can hear in our heads from time to time, even if they are no longer living.  For me – and many people – our mothers spring to mind.  Perhaps for you, it was your father, or a grandparent.  But regardless, it’s helpful to reflect a little on the foundational messages that were imprinted in our heads during childhood and follow us through our lives as we make key decisions and deal with life’s constant challenges.  They may occupy a seat even if you’re not conscious of them – an invisible seat.  So why not bring them into the circle?

Thank you to the Executives Club for these great presentations and much appreciation to Ms. Bernick and Ms. Carpenter for their guidance!