Building your “Board of Directors”

Emily Wagoner
5 min readDec 10, 2018


Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Too often perfectionism or fear disallows us from moving forward with finding our people-circle of truth, or internal Board of Directors. The terms mentor, coach, and sponsor are daunting. Moreover, the choice of whom will fill these roles in our life become overly complicated.

Have you ever said to yourself:
- That person can’t be my coach because they need to meet with me once a week and they don’t have the time.
- A sponsor has to check all my “boxes” and since I don’t know anyone that checks every box, I cannot have a sponsor.
- I’m uncomfortable with asking that person to “be” my mentor. It feels awkward and assuming.

Katy Dickinson defines the differences between the three as follows:

I really loved these descriptions and they suggest how each role differs across five categories. Unfortunately for some, categorization can be intimidating as categorization suggests that pre-determined criteria need to be met. It is this unknown which inhibits us from moving forward.

I struggled with how to make the mentor, coach, sponsor roles in my life more accessible. Then, my friend and colleague, Michelle Trombetta, suggested that rather than using the terms mentor, coach, or sponsor we explore the option of building our own internal Board of Directors.

An internal Board of Directors should know more than you about something, be better than you are at something, or offer varying viewpoints. Your internal Board of Directors can be comprised of a supporter, someone of another generation (younger and/or older), a critic, someone in your field, someone in your circumstance (married mom with 2 kids, in a career transition), a leader in an area you inspire to grow, someone who can network for you in your community. You do not have to fill every role, but remind yourself that you do want diversity, so the more the merrier. Also, there must be trust with each member of your internal Board of Directors.

Let’s say you have built this internal Board of Directors, what do you do with them?

First, invest in them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to make time for someone that shows up late or not at all; someone who cancels at the last minute; or someone who reaches out to me in January with a crises and then again in October with a crises, but nothing in-between.
Then: thank your internal Board of Directors the time they spend with you.

Secondly, you’ll want to be prepared for your meetings with them. Since some of these individuals are your friends, dinner parties and drinks are great; but when discussing internal Board of Director topics, consider creating a specific agenda. Talk about gaps in your skills set, knowledge or decisions that you are undecided on, discuss challenges in your life.
Then: be willing to listen to their suggestions. Defensiveness is natural but it will thwart what you are attempting to accomplish.

Third, make the relationship two-sided. Don’t let your troubles dominate all conversations. Let’s say the person on your internal Board of Directors is a Senior Vice President of Sales, so you feel that they are impenetrable and have all the answers. However, they are human, like you, so be willing to be receptive to their requests for feedback.
Then: ask them about their family and how they are doing.

Fourth, share your successes and failures with your internal Board of Directors. I had a friend who reached out me to help her solve a career decision, and then after I gave her advice I heard nothing. Weeks later I contacted her and asked her what decision she made. She had followed my advice and had got the job with the salary increase she wanted. I was so happy for her. I was also disappointed that it was me that had to reach out to extract the news, rather than her calling and sharing it with me so I could be part of the joy. Make it a point to do the follow-up work with those that have given you their time.
Then: consider giving additional kudos or recommendation on social media.

Fifth, evaluate your progress. My friend had a problem that she shared with me which she iterated on for several years. I listened and offered advice when she requested it, but she never made any changes. So the story was the same and it became wearier and wearier to watch her continue to suffer. If you are stuck, evaluate your progress on your goals.
Then: choose to try a different a solution until you find one that works.

Finally, be willing to be vulnerable with your internal Board of Directors. Trust is a prerequisite because without it, no real progress can be made. What I mean is, you cannot move forward in your career if you’re afraid to tell your internal Board of Directors that you are frustrated at home with the lack of support by your partner and are stressed out and anxious. That is part of the conversation. Be open to taking this risk and venturing outside of your comfort zone.
Then: give your internal Board of Director a hug.

An internal Board of Directors gives you the reinforcement you need to make the little and big life decision that may seem unsurmountable without them. Just as a business’s Board of Directors goal is to ensure the company’s prosperity, your internal Board of Directors will work to help you with decision making, networking, creativity and emotional support to make sure you are prospering and reaching your full potential. So find a diverse bunch of them, reach out to them periodically, prepare for them, nurture your relationship with them, include them in your progress while continuing to make forward movement, and be vulnerable with them so that you can grow into your best self.



Emily Wagoner

A thankful mom that loves developing relationships, inspiring others to do their best, and creating a dynamic environment.