Create Your Own Personal “Board of Directors”
by Priscilla Claman
For most of us, the many roles we play in our lives do not fit into two neat compartments of work and home. Covid-19 brought this into high relief as our pets and families make mostly unintentional guest appearances during our workdays, from the cat that leaps onto your desk to inspect your laptop and join your video meeting to the squabble that erupts in the next room while you’re on a conference call.
As the distinction between home and work evaporates, borrowing a classic concept from work—mentoring—can help you manage the large and small challenges you face in all aspects of your life. Our use of mentors at work has evolved over time from one senior-level mentor, giving advice and actively promoting the careers of their mentees, to a portfolio of mentors, a personal board of directors you consult with regularly to get advice and feedback to help you shape and direct your career.1
The mentor concept of a single source of information and support has no direct equivalent in modern family life. Gone are the days of leaning on Grandma for child-raising help and as an authority figure. Since families no longer tend to live in the same community and Grandma may still be working herself, developing a portfolio of mentors can help you at home as much as it does at work.
A board of directors, whether for corporate life, family life, or both, needn’t be a complicated project. It doesn’t need to meet (members don’t even have to all live in your same time zone), and you don’t need to officially invite your mentors to participate or even inform them about your board.
Consider expanding your professional board of directors to include resources that will help you tackle family issues. It should comprise people you trust, have an interest in you and your family, and have experience or perspective to share. You’ll want to select a range of people from all different aspects of your life. Since each person has their own network of contacts, choosing folks whose networks don’t overlap will make your interactions with them more beneficial.
Here are some suggestions of people to include and how they can help:
Once you’ve assembled your board of directors, stay in touch—and not just with holiday cards. Connecting on social media is the easiest and most fun to do. Pictures are wonderful ways to convey what you and your family are up to. But every so often, take an extra step to reach out to say thank you for their friendship and support. It’s important. So is letting them know how their advice turned out. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just an email saying, “I followed your advice and talked to her teacher. It really worked!”
But as all the writing on mentors will tell you, contributing your gifts in return is key to sustaining strong mentoring relationships. Pay it forward by contributing not just to your mentors but to their contacts and the professional or community organizations they support. Something as simple as donating to your mentor’s charity walk or buying pecans to support their kid’s school fundraiser. And if they help you with a reference to a great pediatrician, it’s easy to pay them back with a tip about a job lead.
You probably already have friends or family whom you consult when you need to, so expanding them into a board of directors isn’t difficult. It’s only a matter of being intentional about it. With a little thought and effort, your board of directors will provide your working-family juggling act with resources, information, and emotional support, as well as a sense of perspective—the gift of a new way of thinking.
Adapted from “Working Parents, Your Family Needs a ‘Board of Directors’,” on hbr.org, July 8, 2020 (product #H0%Q4M).