[SoG] Board of Directors for your life!

Create a personal board for yourself!

Hello hello!

This is going to be one of my favorites! I will talk about a board of advisors, mentors, friends, strangers, and more that you can "report" to on how you are doing in life. And more than mere reporting to them, you can jam with them when you are in a soup. For the ease of communication, let's call these people a part of your Personal Board. And this is Making an Effective Personal Board Guide for Beginners!

A. So what's a Personal Board?
Think of 5 of the wisest people you know. These could be your teachers, bosses, subordinates, neighbors, even competitors!
Now you put them all in a room, on a single bench. You know, how courts have a bench?
And then you assume that you report to that bench. And every time you are stuck, you can tap into the bench to seek help!

That! Simple!

Report is the keyword there. It must feel like a job!

B. So, what are the advantages of such a board?
Because you are reporting to the board, you are accountable to someone else. Not as personal level or at a professional level, but at your life level!

And once you have this reporting structure, I promise, your work becomes faster, better, more streamlined. And you get more effective and efficient. You stop slacking. You find that inspiration finds you easier!

The other big advantage is that you have someone to reach out to when you are stuck.

The third thing is that there's someone to celebrate your success with. I mean did you not feel good when you won an award for your superlative performance at your workplace? Or when you get that Pizza or the Ice cream after finishing a tough task!

Finally, I have seen that when I am trying to explain something to someone, I tend to do better when I have an "authority" that I talking up to! I am a little more aware, a little more careful, little more thoughtful. And this little-more often has taken me far!

B1. Wait. Why would you want one?
If not for the rational reasons mentioned above, I think a personal board ensures that you get better with each thing you do. And while you talk to them, because people on your board are little ahead of you, often better than you, racking brains with them helps you know better! No?

C. What kind of people do you want on your board?
Instead of giving you the names, lemme give you characteristics.

Your board must have people that...

  • you don't want to disappoint. Thing is, if you have people on the board that you will merely report to and come back home, it wouldn't work. You need to "afraid" to disappoint the ones your board. To a point that you prepare extra hard.

  • have an interesting point of view on things and have a wide world view. They also have a unique understanding of the world - may or may not be popular though. This will help you broaden your view as well. Plus when they do give you feedback, you can be sure that they are coming from a lens that you would've never thought of!

  • are the polar opposite of how you are. Of course. We don't want to live in a bubble or an echo chamber!

  • are invested in your success. So that they give you a disproportionate share of your mind (if not time).

  • know you deeply (typically these are people you'd know for long). I don't have to explain this. Apart from quoting Naval's famous "play long-term games with long-term people".

  • can give you time (say 1 hour a month). This is the ideal duration and cadence for being in touch with your board.

  • are intelligent than you! Clearly. You need to learn. No?

Plus, if you are currently grappling with a long-term challenge (say a startup or a business or a relationship), you must have a few "subject matter experts". The ones that have been in the same place where you hope to be in a few weeks, months, etc. BTW, I have realized that these experts don't become experts just because they know their shit. But because they know what doors to knock on and what to open! Their access is what counts and makes them experts, desirable.

In one line, try to have people on your board that you would want to become in life. After all, you are sum total of 5 people that you spend most of your time with!

Of course, like all things, the board is fluid.
People come and people go. But institutions stay. Plus as you evolve, people that can help you will change as well. You know how your school teacher from the 7th-grade can't really do what your teacher at MBA did? You thus need to be ok with this fluidity!

D. How do you find such people?
There is no easy answer to this one! Guess I've been lucky. Here are a few things that worked for me. See if these work for you...

1. Ask. Go on Twitter, Quora, Facebook, Linkedin and seek out people that you think you want on your board. Hang a banner outside your home if you have to!

2. Friends of friends. Ask your loose contacts about who you could talk to. This is an important one. Loose contacts are the ones that often have nothing invested in you. And when they agree to help, they know that they are risking very little. This means that they are quite liberal with their introductions. On the other hand, the close ones know you really well and if there are chinks in your armor, they would know it and will be skeptic to even make introductions.

3. Finally, intention! No no, I don't believe in the Secret. But I do know things fall in place when you want them to. How this works, logically is that since you are working hard on things, you would knock on even the doors that are shut tight. And once one of those open, you would "blame" it on luck. You would miss that you were the one to have thrown those 1000 darts!

E. So how to make the board? Now that you know the advantages and the kind of people you want?
Three things.
1. Tell them that (you are putting them on your board) and take their inputs about how to structure it better!
Speak with them with candidness and candor. Tell them others that you are hoping to recruit them (and others) for your board. Tell them why you need this board. Seek their time. And then ask them how to make it work for them (and not for you - you are the seeker here)!

2. Keep them invested in you and your work.
See "F" below.

3. Keep evolving.
Like I said, these things are fluid. So keep evolving. Make this known to people on your board. Communicate. There is never less communication.

F. How do you ensure that they are invested enough in you to be on your board? How do you maintain it?
Four things.

  • Find people

  • Add value. Give. Not get.

  • Communicate

  • Repeat

I've spoken about finding them in "D" above.

F2. Now, how to add value? The thing is, while they are on your board to help you, they are not obliged to. Neither are they being paid. If anything, they are paying you with their time. Or connections. Or whatever. So you owe them, big time! And if you want this board to be a sustainable thingy, you need to ensure that they get something in return.

Here is what I try to do.

1. They get super-priority in my life. Second only to my parents. Siblings, spouses, work, clients, bosses, etc. all come second.
If they have an errand to make, I am available.
If they need a 3 AM friend, I am around.
If they need some shitty thing done, they can count on me.
Think of me as their personal assistant, always on the beck and call!

2. I actively look out for opportunities that align with their interest.
One of my board-members wants to make films. And I know some people that make films. And I try at each chance I get to make her a part of discussions.
One of my board-members wanted to start a podcast. I pestered him till he gave in and did it!

3. Connect them.
Nothing binds us humans than shared purpose. To be honest, I have failed at this miserably but I'd like to fix this.

F3. Communicate.
I prefer email. Some of them prefer calls. Some don't like to talk at all. Irrespective. The tool / medium you choose HAS to be asynchronous, non-urgent, and to the point. For lengthy discourses, you have other means.

Pro Tip. I often try to physically meet each once a quarter. If they are in a different city, I tell them as early as I can so that they can make time and I go to where they are. I have traveled for 10 hours to spend 10 minutes with people. To me, nothing replaces a handshake. I can NOT wait for COVID-19 to get over!

G. So, you have a board now. What do you do with them?
Lol. It will be repetitive but I will still spell it out.

  1. Inform them that you are making the board to seek help and grow

  2. Communicate with them on a regular basis. Talk about wins, losses, plans and goals and dreams, and aspirations. Seek their inputs. Implement what they tell you (if you don't agree with their inputs, stay mindful while you take the other road).

  3. Go back to them in the next edition and talk about the impact of their advice. Everyone wants to know if what they said worked!

  4. It is imperative that you are SUPER honest with them. You need harsh feedback if you want to become better. I have this anonymous form that anyone can fill in to give me harsh and honest feedback.

  5. Repeat.

H. And what not to do with them?
While we are at this, I think I need to spell out what you must NOT do with them.

Time is important. For you. For them. I consider that every interaction with them is chargeable at Rs. 10 lakhs an hour. And if what I am facing is worth 10 lakhs, I chat with them (apart from regularly scheduled email).

A rule of thumb is that things that I dislike talking to with people that report to me, I do not take those to my board. Things like squabbles with my partners (vendors, clients, etc), small wins, good morning messages, etc etc.

Basically, give them reverence and respect!

I. What does my board look like?
I1. My board has some 40 people. Not kidding. I want it to have some 100 people!

I send them an email once in two months where I do an honest appraisal of how I've done in the last 2 months against stated goals. I also try and talk about course correction. And I often talk about things that I plan to do in the next 2 months. I started with monthly emails but I figured that I am unable to move things in a month. In fact, I will probably move to a quarterly cadence.

I do not compel them to reply.
Heck, I don't even expect them to reply.
And I don't track the open rates.

But each reply I get, I ensure that I reply back in less than 24 hours. If someone wants to talk, I am available to them asap. And I put serious time and effort into thinking about what they write to me!

I2. Then, I also have a "superboard".
This is where I am a little more liberal and open with my chats. Without taking their names, the top 5 "people" that I reach out for help include...

  • A 42-year old senior from college

  • A 39-year old friend from college

  • My younger sis

  • Co-founders at various initiatives I run (ages range from 21 to 40)

  • Loose connections. This is a topic for another SoG. I think most things in my life happened to me cos of these loose connections. Closest people have been unable to help me!

I3. And depending on context and agenda, I reach out to some "experts" as well. Think of it as a pool of people that you can tap into when you are stuck!

I4. I also have a couple of Mastermind groups where I have peers that are in the same boat as I.

Some pro tips...

  1. Always send them emails in BCC. Never ever reveal their names, unless they are ok with it. You probably will have to when you are out there to recruit. But not beyond that.

  2. Communicate 1v1 as much as you can about your issues.

  3. Be mindful and respectful about their time.

I am happy to send you some of the emails that I send to my board. Lemme know if you want.

I5. I do have a wish list in terms of how to structure and operate this better. Some of these ideas are wild (like getting all my board members for a weekend to Goa or something every quarter and do freewheeling chats), some are simple (recreate the salons of early Europe) and some I am still thinking about.

J. That's all folks!
Final word - like most things in life, this one starts delivering results once you reach a certain point. So, there are no overnight miracles. You will have to persist for a bit before you can find value.

Good luck!

Oh, any questions? Please please do let me know. Would be happy to respond in whatever way I can. That's the point of writing these letters!

Hope this helps. In case you want more inputs on how to make one, I am always available. And if you'd like me to be on your board, yay!

Over and out!

PS: This piece came out as a result of a discussion with Justin Alva. He even sent me a few ideas on how to structure this piece. Thanks, Justin!

PPS: If you are stuck with your writing, lemme know and I'd love to help you out! In the last week's SoG edition, I invited you to be a part of a writing cohort where each participant tries and writes a long-form piece every week. Want in? Lemme know!


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