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Our Advisory Board is exactly that – the people we go to when we need advice.  In order to insure advice we receive from them is sound they need to have some specific characteristics.  They have to be willing to provide advice, they need to be wise so the advice they offer is sound, they need to have the experience to offer advice that is pertinent to the issue at hand, and the advice they’re offering needs to be unbiased.

  1. Willingness.

The willingness to seek and listen to advice is a mark of maturity.  When I consider those times in my career I’ve failed, without exception, I could have prevented it.  I always knew I was in a situation where I was in trouble and there was always someone who, had I been willing to seek and listen, would have provided the advice I needed.

However, when we’re finally in the situation where we know we’d benefit from some advice, we need to already have developed trusted advisors who are willing to provide us the benefit of their counsel.

Not everyone is comfortable, and even our most respected advisor might be uncomfortable, providing advice in certain situations or on certain topics.  If, before we ask for advice on a particular topic, we consider why it is we would ask or accept advice from this particular person on that particular topic, we can avoid putting ourselves and our advisors in a situation where they, like us, don’t really have the background or experience to provide us counsel.

On the other hand, we all know people who, will give advice, unsolicited.  They’re just wired that way.  If we are together for any amount of time, enjoying a meal or just walking across a parking lot, and describe what we’re working on or struggling with, they’ll offer advice.

We can choose to consider this type of advice as the gift it is.  When we’re fortunate enough to have people like that in our lives, for goodness sake, we can at least consider what they’ve offered and thank them for it.   Typically, they won’t hold it against us if we don’t follow their advice if we don’t bring the same issue up repeatedly.

  1. Wisdom.

A young client once said something that’s still stuck with me almost twenty years later.  We were talking in his office after a particularly contentious exchange between two of his team members.  Both were extremely bright and hard-working.  One had the responsibility for solving a particular technical issue and presented a path forward to the team.  The other, countered his proposal at every turn by discrediting the soundness of the approach.

He shook his head and offered, “There’s a difference between smart and wise.”

Understanding the difference between the two causes us to develop solutions that pave the way for future success without seeking to win at someone else’s expense.

This understanding also gives us the wisdom to seek advisors who are both.

  1. Pertinent Experience.

Seeking advisors who have experience pertinent to the business challenge at hand is a matter of defining what we’re trying to accomplish and exactly what experience it is we don’t have.  In other words, we have to “know what we it is we don’t know” and seek an advisor who does.

Once we’ve defined what it is we need to learn there are multiple advisors whose counsel we seek based upon the issue at hand, particularly if we realized some of our advisors are people who are people we’ve never met whose writings and work we follow.

In fact, finding an answer can be as easy as typing, “How do I …?” into our Internet browsers.  There are volumes of materials and instruction available on about every topic if we are looking for it.

Sometimes, however, we need an advisor who will be sure we are asking the right questions.  The Small Business Administration recognizes the importance of this and through their SCORE program has a virtual army of retired executives who are willing to mentor.

  1. Unbiased.

Our advisors provide unbiased advice on issues because they have “No Dog in the Hunt”.  Unlike mentors or peers in our current organization our advisors can offer us an outside perspective.

One of the most fruitful sources for advisors is people with whom we’ve previously worked.   Maintaining those relationships throughout our careers is an investment worth making.

Building a personal advisory board, just like the advisory board to a business, is a valuable source of wisdom and counsel when we populate it with the right team.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.