Multiple viewpoints

When one mentor is no longer enough, consider a personal board of advisors

By Karen Kodzik
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Over my years as a career consultant, I’ve heard many wonderful stories from entrepreneurs, senior executives, and other business leaders about the role that mentors and advisors have played in their lives and careers. Interestingly, as people “grow up” as professionals, their need for guidance and support changes.
Early in their careers, many rely upon individual mentors. These mentors may have been formally “assigned” as part of an employer’s professional development program, or they may have been identified independently by the mentee based on who they looked up to or admired. 
The major limitation of a mentor relationship is that it provides only one perspective. As their roles evolve, some leaders find that a single perspective is no longer enough. They may then seek support and advice through industry associations or roundtables of professionals who are at their same level and facing similar challenges. 
An alternative that’s growing in popularity is a personal board of advisors. Transcending specific roles, personal advisory boards serve as long-standing confidants who provide a compass for personal and professional decision-making over time. Members of the personal advisory board are invested in the success of the individual.
Hand-chosen based on certain criteria, personal advisory boards augment a professional’s skills and experience, expand his or her business network, and provide distinct perspectives. More than a casual group of mentors, it’s a team united to help the professional succeed over time by providing objective, relevant counsel. 
The formality of the board is dependent on the individuals and can come together on a regular basis or as the need arises. 
Scott Rollin, president and founder of Edina-based Management Compensation Resources, has utilized a personal board of advisors since 2002. He selected four to five individuals to be his advisors based on trust, confidence, industry knowledge, business acumen, and diversity of perspective. “They are not only supportive, they know me and my life goals,” says Rollin. “They help me make sure my business decisions stay aligned with my life goals.” 
Personal advisory boards can be long-standing or evolve over time. For Rollin, some of the members changed as his business grew over the years. “What I needed from them for early on and what I need them for now evolved as my career advanced and business matured,” he notes.
A personal board of advisors can also add an element of consistency as careers and businesses change. “My board knows me and my business so well,” Rollin notes. “If something were to happen to me, they possess enough knowledge about my business ... that can be instrumental in knowledge transfer in the event a transition needs to occur.”
Any professional can benefit from an assembly of people committed to their personal and professional success who are willing and able to provide objective feedback, insight, and suggestions. The key is that these people know your values and are willing to challenge you, ensuring alignment with those values. 
“All entrepreneurs specifically should have a personal board of advisors, beyond their business’s board of directors,” believes Rollin.
Individual mentors have their place in professional development plans, but a personal board of advisors is with you wherever your career leads, whether you’re launching a startup or embarking on a bold new strategy. 


Karen Kodzik is president and founder of Cultivating Careers, a St. Paul–based consultancy that helps professionals with career planning and management.