I’m an Eagle Scout. It wasn’t cool in high school and it’s probably still not, though I no longer shy away from embracing the title. The sentiment scouting helped foster has been extremely useful – the Boy Scout Motto: “Be prepared.”
This is probably the most important post in this series because it’s the thing most people mess up. If you want to successfully develop a ‘Personal Board of Directors’ you have to do a good job preparing, especially for that very first meeting with a potential candidate. Unfortunately, lack of preparation is endemic.
“The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win. Everyone wants to win, but not everyone wants to prepare to win. Preparing to win is where the determination that you will win, is made. Once the game or test or project is underway, it is too late to prepare…” – Edward W. Smith, Sixty Seconds to Success
To ensure that you prepare adequately, I recommend you follow John Maxwell’s rule of thumb for preparation: Spend two times the amount of time you’ll have with your personal board candidate preparing for the meeting. Thus, if you’ve scheduled a 30-minute meeting, you should spend roughly one hour preparing for it. Though this may seem to be overkill, I assure you it’s not. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary if you’re to maximize the limited time you have during the meeting!
Here are three suggestions for how you should invest your time in preparing for an initial meeting with a potential ‘Personal Board of Directors’ candidate:
1) Act like you’re interviewing for your dream job – In other words, use the tools available to you to collect as much information as possible! Dig into the person’s background.
- Find and peruse your personal board candidate’s social media profiles (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, etc…) to gain insight into his life. Look at what he has listed about his family, friends, education, home, hobbies, political affiliation, pastimes, favorite things, etc… Do you notice any commonalities you share?
- Find out what’s important to her right now. Look at your personal board candidate’s Twitter feed, and read her blog. What is she passionate about? What irritates her? Where should you tread softly?
- Dig more deeply into your personal board candidate’s professional life. Look at his profile on his employer’s website. Does he have a specialty? How long has he been with the company? What’s his title? How many promotions has he had? Has he published any relevant articles you should read prior to the meeting?
- Google your personal board candidate’s name. What other interesting or notable things pop up? Any affiliations you didn’t see listed in the other places you already looked?
2) Take time to craft good questions – There is no better way to show that you’re serious (and that you should be taken seriously) than by asking good questions. However, the only way to ask high quality questions is to prepare them in advance. Reference the work you did in identifying the personal board candidate you’re going to be meeting with, including your overarching ‘why’ and the material you uncovered from your pre-interview research (noted above). Then proceed as follows:
- Identify the major topical areas you want to cover.
- Start brainstorming relevant questions without regard to how they sound or how ‘good’ they are.
- When you feel you’ve listed as many questions as you can think of, double back and pick 10 to 15 of the best ones.
- Combine questions where appropriate and edit for quality.
- Re-write or type a final list of questions, and bring them with you to guide the conversation.
Do not shortchange this process and do not go into the meeting without having an actual, physical list of questions with you. You will not be able to remember all your questions during the meeting, and the need to try will keep you from being fully invested in the conversation. I also recommend filing your best questions in a default ‘go to’ list, which becomes a ‘question bank’ for you to refer to for future meetings with other individuals.
Example: 10 of my ‘go to’ questions:
1) Why did you originally choose to pursue [occupation]?
2) How did you identify your passion?
3) As you have enjoyed increasing success, how have you maintained humility?
4) What’s most important to your life/career – mission, vision, passion, or core values?
5) What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more people’s passion, or keep them from their life’s purpose?
6) What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a Christian, husband, father, and mentor?
7) What resources do you recommend to young people exploring their purpose?
8) What’s one thing you know now, that you wished you’d known 25 years ago?
9) What is your metaphor for life?
10) What are your thoughts about the intersection of passion and purpose?
3) Make sure you bring a pen and paper – Take notes! This applies even if you bring a recorder or your smart phone. There are at least three benefits of old-fashion note-taking: It demonstrates your level of commitment, evidences appreciation for the other person’s time and the value you place on her wisdom, and keeps you engaged in the conversation. It’s also handy in case you think of follow up questions while the other person is still talking. You can jot the new question down so it doesn’t consume mental bandwidth and rob you of your ability to be present in the conversation. A good tablet (e.g., iPad, Galaxy, etc…) may be a viable alternative, but do not rely on your smart phone because it’s nearly impossible to type fast enough and the small screen tends to demand your focus and pull you away from the conversation.
Note that preparation requirements will change as your relationship to each personal board member changes. For example, Mark expected me to be prepared at the first meeting, and still lets me lead each meeting with my questions and thoughts. Another one of my personal board members, Bob, is an incredibly successful lawyer and businessman. However, at our meetings, he’s more like a favorite uncle. We hang out and I bring questions, but rarely get through half of them. Contributor Steve Gerali is yet another one of my personal board members. He’s an internationally known author and speaker with two earned PhD.s but, at this point, he’s family. I still spend time preparing for our meetings before they happen, but much less formally. All things considered, it’s much better to be over prepared than under prepared – especially as you’re getting started. Follow the suggestions above, and you’ll step into each meeting with confidence and soon have the foundations of your ‘Personal Board of Directors’ in place!
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth 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!
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