Howard Schultz on Passion, Perseverance and Partnership
Filling Buckets, Online and Offline

Advisors: Personal and Professional, Imaginary and Real

Last week, my friend, Mary, sent me a fabulous article on how to assemble and use a personal board of advisors entitled "Looking Out for Number One", by Jim Collins, author of "Good to Great". The article tied in with a number of related themes from pieces I've been reading -- and hearing -- about advisors (including some gems in Howard Schultz's book "Pour Your Heart Into It" that I blogged about yesterday), and some broader discussions I've been having with a number of folks about the blogosphere facilitating connections with "famous" people.  It also brought up a strong emotional reaction that helped me better understand how my professional work can be seen as simply another manifestation of my personal work.

In the article, published nearly 10 years ago, Jim proposes that businesspeople, especially those actively engaged in starting or running a business, achieve greater self-knowledge and self-actualization by assembling a personal board of directors:

... composed of seven people you deeply respect and would not want to let down. A group like a set of tribal elders that you turn to for guidance at times of ethical dilemmas, life transitions, and difficult choices, people who embody the core values and standards you aspire to live up to.

As with a corporate board of directors, diversity of representation -- different personal and business backgrounds and perspectives -- is an important feature of one's personal board, and the ideal members will be candid but also compassionate and nonjudgmental (i.e., exemplars of bizlove).  The board meetings can be imaginary, simply "envisioning what each board member might say about a given situation", but Jim also encourages people to reach out and really connect with deeply respected people in the real world, noting that "remarkable people -- those worthy of being personal-board members -- tend to be unusually generous with their time" and that "the best payment is simply to emulate them by giving time and guidance to others, especially younger people who need mentors" (i.e., they tend to be mensches and use the currency of karma).

While I was reading Jim's article, I felt tears welling up when I got to the part about really asking remarkable people to be on one's personal board of advisors.  I increasingly pay attention to my emotions, and so I followed this trail of tears down to its source, and revisited the issue of my own personal attention economy, which tends to operate more on a basis of scarcity than abundance.  My father, who was a good man and always did his best, was also an alcoholic, and as I grew older he grew more remote; as a child, I took this personally, and made the inference that if my father wasn't willing to spend time with me, it must be because I'm not worth spending time with.  I have spent the rest of my life working through this internalized conviction, and while I now consciously recognize that my father's behavior was about him (and his disease) and not about me, my subconscious tapes saying "you are not important" still get air time.

One of my entrepreneurial challenges has been to muster the gumption to ask for people's time -- whether it be prospective partners or associates, advisors, or prospective customers and clients.  Since my professional and personal missions are closely intertwined, there is more at stake than simply my self-esteem ... if/when I am unable (or unwilling) to ask for attention, my business suffers as well ... and so working through my professional challenges is helping me work through my personal challenges. 

And those stakes are truly intertwined, where the professional affects the personal as well. Jim shares a story about an entrepreneur who confides in him that "It's easy to get so wrapped up in building the company that you lose sight of what's really important in your life and why you have your company in the first place." This helped me recognize that I am focusing so much time and energy on my business, Interrelativity -- whose mission is helping people relate -- that I have precious little time left to relate to my own family, and thus risk perpetuating the cycle of inattentiveness that was so devastating to me ... opening up yet another channel for realization -- and tears -- to flow ... but I want to let this pot simmer a bit longer before saying more (on this blog).

As I have alluded to before, I feel very fortunate to have received some outstanding advice from some remarkable people in the local entrepreneurial community (and, very recently, a few from "outside").  For reasons I often still don't understand, but am increasingly willing to simply accept, people have been very generous in sharing their insights and experiences with me, and helping me in a variety of ways.  Jim's article prompted me to think more globally, and be more willing to consider people outside my local community that I might invite to join my personal board of directors.  With seven slots, if I could ask anyone, who would they be?  Heady -- and hearty -- stuff!

Two remarkable people I first met through the blogosphere, Dan Oestreich and Paul Williams, and with whom I've recently expanded our relationships through local face-to-face meetings, have both, independently, recently established connections to Guy Kawasaki, author of "The Art of the Start", which all three of us consider the "bible" of entrepreneurship.  Given my own personal history, inviting a luminary like Guy Kawasaki to be on my personal board of advisors would have been unthinkable in the not-too-distant past, but it is something I can envision as actionable now ... and I can also envision contacting Howard Schultz (who I also greatly admire and respect) about joining my personal board of advisors ... and even if my overtures are rejected, I can add Guy and Howard to my imaginary board of advisors.

This, in turn, reminds me of some wisdom I recently encountered in a post by Paul Williams' on an imaginary board of directors.  As I noted in a comment (on yet another related post by Paul, on writing like Leonardo), I really like the idea -- and practice -- of having an imaginary board of advisors. The earliest example I heard of this was in Rick Jarow's Ultimate Anti-Career Guide, wherein he reports that Thomas Edison had an imaginary advisory board that included Galileo and Copernicus (don't know about Leonardo). Jarow offers his own suggestions for how to most effectively use such a board:

The sincerity of the inquiry is of great importance, as is the willingness to trust, ask, listen and live, and then to put what you receive into practice. As you begin to live from your intuitive faculty instead of simply theorizing or wondering about it, you develop a working relationship with your source of guidance and begin to evolve your own way of receiving and responding.

And so, my work -- personal and professional -- is to be willing to trust, ask, listen and live ... to evolve new ways of receiving and responding ... and to open up to the abundance of the universe.

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