It all starts with your thoughts, which often come from the influences we allow into our life. Which is why I think everyone should have their own personal advisory board.

My experience has been that not only is variety truly the spice of life, but is also the spark of innovation. You want to continually surround yourself with people that will challenge you to grow, not folks that cater to mediocrity (or worse). Family members often don’t make great advisory board constituents because their tacit adoration often hinders the opportunity for really deep insight. Below are some of my experiences, which may or may not work for others.

First, create your own vision statement of what you really want. I got there by answering these questions (h/t to Keith Ferrazzi):

  • What do I really enjoy working on? In other words, what could I be doing – as part of a job – that I really love?
  • What are some of the things in my life that I’ve really enjoyed and have brought me great joy or pleasure?
  • If I won the lottery, what are three things I would do?
  • What issues or causes do I care most deeply about?
  • What are my most important values?
  • What are the things that I can do at the excellent level? In other words, what are things that others would consider me to be an expert or at least really good?
  • What are the things I’d like to stop doing or do to a much lesser degree?

The key to making this work is being brutally honest and transparent with yourself. As you write all this out, general themes / trends will emerge from which you can craft your vision. And, this vision statement is probably best kept private; otherwise, you will tend to lose a bit of edgy honesty if you know others will read it. Too many people live lives based on what they think others think they should do – some call that relinquishing responsibility – I call it fear.

This personal vision is not static – simply a reflection of where you are and where you want to go at this stage of your life.

Next, create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) assessment. While the WT is typically used in business settings (competitors, market trends, etc.), here consider them in the context of your vision statement. What truly are your weaknesses and the threats that will hinder you from realizing your vision? This honest WT will set the stage for the most important people to include on your personal advisory board.

Who are some people that can help you further develop your strengths and realize the opportunities? Identify two of these people by name. Based on your weaknesses (which I prefer to call developmental opportunities) and threats, who are people that can significantly help you transcend them? List them by name as well.

Now you have your target list, go get them. How?

While there are probably 1000s of strategies (and books) written on how best to “network and connect”, my philosophy is pretty simple. Find the overlap of interests / passions between you and the other person, and then figure out how you can serve or selflessly give to the other person. There is perhaps no greater joy than in serving others in a meaningful, impactful way (especially around shared interests). Once you’ve created that bond, reciprocity naturally flows and doesn’t need to be an awkward “ask”. Furthermore, most people feel honored to lend their guidance and expertise to others who genuinely seek it.

Now create a personal development plan, with specific objectives and timelines to define the (very) specific steps to make your vision statement a reality. Then, start implementing.

While I rarely meet with my advisory board as a whole, I regularly meet with them individually to share progress against my plan and discuss strategies for enhancement. And, just as your vision statement isn’t static, neither is your advisory board. As you grow, your developmental opportunities will change and you’ll want to bring on different people, and so forth.

Continually surround yourself with the kinds of people (influences/energy) you want/need to help you grow. A great quote I once heard (although I don’t recall the source) goes something like: “If you find you are the smartest person in the room, then find another room.” A really effective personal advisory board makes that a reality.