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Why/How I Utilize a Personal Advisory Board in Leadership

By October 20, 2021Church, Leadership

I don’t remember where the idea originated first – and it is certainly not unique to me, but I have utilized a personal advisory board for most of my career in leadership. I used one in the marketplace, nonprofits and the church.

Frequently I will be coaching a leader and the subject comes up about the use of one. I’m always surprised how rare the practice appears to be. I thought I would share a little more about how a personal advisory board has worked in my context. While you might certainly consider this as an addition to your leadership development, be careful to copy the principle here – not necessarily the practice. (I’ve talked before about the reasons behind that principle in THIS POST.)

What is a personal advisory board?

For me, this is a group of two to five seasoned leaders. I have found two or three is better than one, but I try not to have more than five. When you only meet with one person you simply get one person’s opinion. Multiple people will bounce off each other.  

As the title indicates, these are personal advisors. They are speaking into my life as a leader. Obviously, this impacts the organization if I implement any of their input, but their focus is specifically on my leadership in the organization. I’m asking to use their experience to help me think and lead better.

To be clear, this is not coaching or consulting. I’ve had those too. This is a much less formal arrangement. I ask nothing of them other than to pull from their own experiences and wisdom to weigh in on my personal leadership.

To be clear, this is also not an elder or oversight board.

How often do they meet?

This is up to you – and them. It’s likely though not frequent unless you’re working through a specific season of change. For me this works best every 6 weeks at most and no longer than 3-4 months for the longest stretch in between. I don’t want to wear them out with meetings, but I want to check in with them enough that they are aware of what is going on in my leadership and the organization.

Specifically, what do you do with them?

Again, as the title indicates, I meet with them to seek their advice. They help me see further down the road and find clarity in the midst of often competing initiatives. I know we can’t do everything – and shouldn’t try. My personal advisory board weighs in on what my priorities should be in a current season of leadership.

It is important that I set the expectations early that I’m not asking them to make decisions. I am seeking their input in decisions I need to make as a leader. I may or may not be able to utilize all their suggestions.  

In the beginning stages, as we are getting to know each other, I may only share one issue with them. If it works out successfully I will bring them more. 

In my context, I’m usually pitching 3-5 initiatives/challenges/opportunities that we are working on or considering and asking them to weigh into each of them. Each time I want to give them an update on what we talked about last time and share any upcoming items where I want their input. It is important not to waste their time. I try to be prepared. when we meet.

All total this is usually an hour minimum but no more than two hours of their time. I have never paid members of my personal advisory board. I can’t speak for them all, but especially in the nonprofit sense I believe most see their investment in me as a way to contribute.

What type of person do I look for in this?

Again, I want seasoned leaders. And they don’t have to be in ministry. In fact, I would guess a majority of mine have not been. I have had bankers, small business owners, and government officials on my personal advisory board. Each had something to unique from their experiences to offer.

Look for sharp leaders. They may be retired or they may be very busy, but iron does sharpens iron.

Perhaps the use of a personal advisory board could be something that can help you get to your next level of leadership.

To be clear, I do think coaching and consulting can still help. Check out my new website design and my 5T Leadership offerings. One thing I love helping leaders do is managing the transitions in their leadership and life. Let me know if I can help you.

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    My wife and I were just talking about this the other day. She's been in leadership all of her adult life. Right now she's the director of a Christian non-profit organization with a board of directors, several paid staff members, and over 400 volunteers in the region. Her personal advisors include a couple of members of the board of directors who are local business and community leaders as well as a couple of her closest friends from church who are business and mission leaders.

    Me? My role is to give her a confidential ear to vent to when she needs to verbalize frustrations before she talks to someone. I'm not there for advice. I'm there to let her talk, because it's often the case that frustrations sound different when you turn them into words.

    • ronedmondson says:

      You are serving her well. My wife serves that role for me. It's why we take our morning (or evening) walks together.