Do you remember your first school dance?

Awkward, right!?!

Gentlemen, assuming it fell to you to make the first move, how did you decide who to approach? You probably based your decision in part on your comfort level; or, maybe you just avoided it altogether. However, if like me, you had a particular individual in mind, you undoubtedly rehearsed the interaction in your head for days leading up to the event – infatuation made the stakes much higher! When that fateful evening came, maybe you even ‘borrowed’ some of your dad’s cologne…  Hopefully not too much!


As you prepared, you probably didn’t think things through logically because that’s not how the whole school dance thing works. However, that is how building a ‘Personal Board of Directors’ works. What’s more, getting started can be almost as awkward, so I’m going to try and help you be a little more intentional with your identification and approach. As mentioned, your first step involves formally identifying people you are interested in as potential personal board members. Some candidates will be readily apparent, while others are more obscure. New candidates will surface as you move through life, as well. In any case, start by cross-referencing your overarching ‘why’ with two additional criteria relating to each specific individual:

1) Why are you interested in her? Occupation is an obvious and very common answer to this question, and that’s OK. Pursing a potential board member based on his or her occupation alone is perfectly legitimate. However, be sure to keep an open mind as it may lead to you to other, previously unconsidered individuals. As you ponder potential candidates, pay attention to their ancillary accomplishments, personal interests, and qualifications. Do you notice any significant commonalities? You may realize that there is a specific question you’d really like to ask someone in particular about something that’s important to you. That person might be a good candidate for your ‘Personal Board of Directors’ regardless of whether or not you’re currently interested in her vocation!

Also note the power of association, and be sure to consider the life experiences and personal characteristics of potential candidates. Does anyone stand out to you for a specific reason, such as an admirable character trait (e.g., positivity, patience, kindness, etc…)? As Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones exhorts, “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: The people you meet and the books you read.” Embracing a more expansive line of questioning in this area may call your attention to a broader array of worthy candidates.

Example: Why I was interested in Mark: I found Mark by doing a very general LinkedIn search on the organization he works for and perusing the search results one-by-one. I was looking for career path ideas, not any particular person. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was inspired to return to graduate school in large part by people I met while doing consulting work overseas who were applying their advanced professional degrees in otherwise non-traditional ways. Thus, I was trying to gain some perspective on different ways I could apply my education in areas meaningful to me. Once I read through Mark’s profile and got a glimpse of his professional experience, I knew he could lend me some insight and felt I had to meet him. I spent about a month asking around to try and find a contact that worked in the same organization and eventually connected with the husband of one of my wife’s classmates. He had met Mark before, currently worked in the same building Mark did, and was willing to help me make the connection.

2) Why might she be interested in you? In other words, what’s your connection? You may already have a personal relationship with some of the people you’re considering as candidates for your ‘Personal Board of Directors.’ If so, that’s a great foundation to build on! But, chances are you also want to tap a wider network. There are probably people that you’re interested in speaking with who you do not actually know personally. In this case, the most common answers to the above ‘connection’ question are mutual acquaintance and affiliation:

  • ‘Mutual acquaintance’ is essentially self-explanatory: People are usually willing to do favors for friends, which may include meeting with you! In my experience, this is the best place to start in trying to establish a connection because the relationship you have in common seems to do the most to lower the barriers between you and the potential board member.
  • ‘Affiliation’ begs more examination. Start thinking in terms of organizations you’re currently involved with or have been in the past. Include churches and para-church organizations, professional associations, extracurricular activities, and school attendance in your calculus. The benefit of this avenue of connection is that it provides you and your potential board member with a common ground to explore right from the outset.

Be sure to think in terms of your ‘season of life’ relative to potential board members, as well. For example, most students SERIOUSLY underestimate the value of their situation and the opportunities it provides to talk with people! As a student, your primary responsibility is to attempt to determine some kind of trajectory for your life and almost everyone is willing to help! But, once you’ve moved into the real world, things get a little bit harder. Why? Because many of the people you’ll want advice from (particularly if your interest in them is based on their professional success) are your competitors! Thus, they generally have less incentive to help you figure things out. Nonetheless, a ‘young professional’ variant of this approach can still be quite effective.

Example: Why I thought Mark might be interested in me: Given the outwardly focused, developmental nature of Mark’s position, I assumed him to be the type of person generally interested in making a difference. I hoped this included a willingness to invest in the incoming generation of leaders. It just so happened I was right, and I leveraged the ‘student’ approach as I’ll detail further next post. However, based on previous rejection emails I received from similarly situated professionals, I also felt that a stronger connection (i.e., via a mutual acquaintance) would make getting a meeting with Mark easier to accomplish.

Note that, at this phase, you DO NOT have to know for sure whether a given individual is actually interested in meeting with you! You’re only establishing common ground on which to initiate contact. Consequently, you should not discount anybody too soon! Don’t assume you know his response. You never know until you ask! This is important to recognize because many times the most intimidating people to approach – the ones you’re most tempted to discount – are the best candidates (just like asking that special someone to the dance). You recognize this fact deep down, which inherently ‘raises the stakes’ in approaching them and pressures you to find excuses not to do so (i.e., thereby avoiding rejection). Fight this tendency!

Once again, it’s appropriate to be as specific as possible in working through this process. Making notes on each individual as you brainstorm will help you moving forward. As you might suspect, the next question is: Will she meet with you? Once you’ve answered the two questions listed above, it’s time to find out!

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth post in a series dedicated to helping you learn to develop your own ‘Personal Board of Directors.’ If you found this post helpful, be sure not to miss the others – subscribe to this blog via the link in the upper right hand corner!

Leave a Comment: Who do you greatly admire? Who has done something you find particularly notable? Do you know anyone who is exceptionally loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, or gracious (Galatians 5:22-23)?

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