Both Marice Fernando and Amy Thomasson have both participated in formal mentorship programs and found their own mentors by forming relationships with key figures in their professional lives. 

But they’ve also found another path to developing those relationships and advisers for their work, and that’s by forming their own boards of directors. 

While many of us are familiar with the phrase when it comes to managing associations and nonprofits, it may not seem like one that makes immediate sense for individual use. But both women — Fernando works as the membership engagement manager for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and Thomasson as the marketing director for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons — have found that developing their sounding boards to turn to when making career decisions have been vital additions to their own development. 

For Fernando, that looks like three or four people she considers her go-to team for advice. 

“Sometimes, it’s appropriate to ask all of them, and sometimes it only applies to one or two,” Fernando said. “But I do have a set of go-to people.” 

While Thomasson said it’s been a goal to nail down her own personal board, she called the step “critical” because those people are who she “can talk to for career guidance, for best practices, even for motivation and inspiration.” 

Long gone are the days when just one person could fill that role.

As noted in the MIT Sloan Management Review in April 2015, “individuals need to configure their networks based on their needs and the resource commitments involved in building such relationships.”

In the 2015 paper, researchers identified three keys to developing a personal board of directors: 

  1. “Develop self-awareness.” If you don’t know what you need, then you won’t be able to find the right go-to people to help you figure out how to get it. 
  2. “Broaden membership in your personal board of advisors.” Just like in an organization, your key relationships should represent a diverse range of interests, expertise and professions. Remember that mentorship is not necessarily a top-down or bottom-up experience; mentorship from friends and colleagues is equally important. As Thomasson notes, “everybody has different value they can add to your career journey.”
  3. “Allow your network to evolve and change.” Your goals will change as you do, so let your personal board of directors reflect that evolution. This of course does not mean you don’t need to lose touch with anyone, but you should be able to adjust whose advice you take and when. 

Develop your own personal board of directors, and you’ll create a big asset for yourself that will travel with you from job to job, or from one life chapter to the next. And don’t forget to pay forward on those bits of advice and assistance you get. 

“Through having mentors who empowered me, I’m better at advocating for myself,” Fernando said. “And now I’m at a point where I want to be able to pass that on to others who are in early in their career.” 

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

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