Are you preparing for a big transition, such as taking on a new role at work? Or navigating a challenge, like finding care for an aging family member? Maybe you’re facing a life change, such as my wife and I recently did when we had a baby last year.
During these times, it helps to have a set of friends who can guide and support you along the journey―what I like to call a personal “board of directors.” Humans thrive with community, encouragement, and peer networks, and these trusted advisers can help us navigate new, sometimes difficult, experiences.
So as my son’s due-date approached last year, I assembled an array of friends and family―some parents, some not―who knew me well and could offer occasional advice, accountability, and perspective as I embarked on this new phase of life. No formal by-laws, corporate board rooms, or quarterly meetings were required.
The first few months after our son was born were a complete blur. There are still so many new challenges and questions: How do we teach him to sleep? How do I balance childcare and other responsibilities? How do we honor our own parenting limits in sustainable ways?
There are no simple answers, but at least I know that I don’t have to figure them out on my own. Talking with my board has already helped me shift my perspective and clarify my thinking and core values. That’s because true supporters will help you remember who you are and surface your best qualities, even when life gets overwhelming. There is undeniable wisdom in the crowd.
If you’d like to create your own board, follow these five steps:
1. Clarify your needs
Think of a goal or challenge that you are currently facing or might be facing soon. What might you need help with? What makes you nervous? What type of support might be useful? Clarifying and prioritizing your needs will help you focus on what you’re looking for help with and where you might want to set up boundaries.
2. Make a list; check it twice
Create a list of three to five people who know you well and whose values and decision-making abilities you respect. To make sure you get a diverse group of advisers, jot down their ages, life experiences, communication styles, and any special skills. If your list seems too homogenous, consider making some changes.
3. Talk with people individually
Ideally, talk with people one-on-one and, if possible, in person. Let them know that you’d like to invite them into this experience, and, most importantly, tell them why. Take this as an opportunity to let people know what it is about them that you respect and appreciate―they’ll likely be glad to hear and honored to be asked.
For my board, the conversations were a heads-up to expect my call (or, more accurately, calls). Simply knowing that I would have people to turn to put me at ease.
4. Give them an “out”
For each invitation, remind your friends and supporters that this is 100 percent voluntary. No pressure, no ongoing lifetime commitment. In fact, setting clear boundaries and expectations is healthy and productive. If the answer is “not right now,” that’s okay, too. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you or want to offer support, so avoid taking it personally.
5. Say “thanks!”
If they’re game to join your board, make sure to thank them immediately. And regularly. I enticed my “board members” with promised compensation: Regular anecdotes, baby photos, gifts, and meals and drinks of their choice (on me!). Luckily, no one hardballed me on the negotiation. Make it silly, when you can. Humor helps. But the most important aspect is following up often with your genuine appreciation and gratitude.