There are many secrets to life -- go to bed early, stay out of debt, don't buy roadside shellfish unless you can see the ocean -- but one of my very favourites is to enlist a personal board of directors. Just as companies recruit a board of directors to help them put policies in place and make hard decisions, it can be very helpful to find a group of friends to advise you through life's sticky situations.
I have a group of women in my life who can draw on their personal and professional expertise to advise me on everything from decorating to divorce law to the DSM-5. In turn, I'm the go-to person on moving, critical thinking, and how to source a vintage designer bag. I've found that it's so much easier to "do life together" and draw on each other's experience, than for each of us to try to master everything on our own.
If you are interested in cultivating your very own board of directors, here are nine ways to help make it happen:
- Ask. Most of our friends would gladly help us, if only they knew what was going on in our lives. If you have a friend with expertise in a certain area, it's OK to ask her for advice. The key is to keep you questions high level and not ask your friends to do their work for free. For example, it's cool to ask a doctor friend who she'd recommend to give you a second opinion. It's not cool to ask her to remove a splinter from your foot.
- Become friends with people who are different than you. There is a reason why companies encourage diversity at both employee and board levels: a diversity of backgrounds leads to a diversity of thinking, which leads to better ideas. If your friends are all exactly like you, you might want to shake things up. Nurture friendships with different types of people at all stages of life. Not only will you get better advice, but your life will become much more interesting.
- Take advice from strangers. Your board of advisors does not have to consist entirely of people you know in real life. I have yet to meet Anne Lamott or Pema Chödrön, but they have both had a profound impact on my life. I often think of their words of wisdom when faced with a difficult situation.
- Make sure your friend group matures as you do. When we are young, we tend to gravitate towards people who are fun and outgoing. As we age and our lives become more complicated, we want friends with a little more depth to help us navigate uncharted waters. Seek out close friends who offer wisdom and support and don't be afraid to spend less time with those who offer nothing but drama.
- Ask new friends about their backgrounds. For years, I was a stay-at-home mom and people were quite surprised to learn that I knew my way around corporate strategy and a balance sheet since my business skills were not always in evidence at the local Gymboree. Ask your friends what jobs they've held and what their hobbies are. There may come a time in your life when you need to source a vegan chef with a knowledge of real estate law and wouldn't it be cool to know that your new friend at yoga has a law degree and a diploma from cooking school?
- Hold a salon or mastermind meeting of people you'd like to get to know better. Smart and talented people love to meet other smart and talented people. Invite eight to ten people who you'd like to get to know better to share ideas for an hour over coffee or lunch. If you give people a couple of topics to be discussed, it will help break the ice. I love to ask people what book has been most influential or the best piece of advice ever received. Conversation should naturally flow from there and give you a chance to deepen your relationships with potential members of your board.
- Nurture your board. Typically, corporate board members are paid and receive stock in exchange for their expertise. You might wish to reward your board members too. Perhaps you can book a weekend retreat, organize a monthly coffee morning at your home, or establish a standing quarterly lunch. Everyone likes to be thanked and feel valued.
- Offer your expertise to others. If you can help your friends navigate the bumps in their lives, they will be much more inclined to help you in return. If you are really good at certain things, don't hide your light under a bushel. Share your expertise and offer assistance to friends whenever you can.
- Listen to the advice given. This is perhaps the most important point, as there is nothing more frustrating than taking the time to offer advice and see it actively ignored. If you seek advice, be prepared to act on it from time to time. The best thank you for most people is seeing how they have been able to help you.
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