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Do You Have a Board of Advisers? (Barry Goldberg on Leadership)

Barry Goldberg on Leadership
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I have just returned from a remarkable three days at the second meeting of a board of advisers. When I was first asked to serve on this board, I was not at all certain how it would operate or what the real purpose was.

The company involved is too small to have an actual board of directors outside of the CEO and owner’s purview. But what I have seen so far is a remarkably impactful way for a CEO to create an advisory board that can bring the best of a board of directors without the political overhead or the need to cede control. Here’s a blueprint for setting a board of advisers for small to medium-sized companies.

First, pick advisers you would have as consultants because you likely will engage them that way. Having a board of outside advisers already indicates a desire to grow, increase profits, improve efficiencies and find new markets. Most founders know a specific part of the business well — other areas, not so much. So the board might include people with finance, sales, marketing, technology and organizational development as well as industry-specific skills.

Be clear about consulting roles. There may be needs for the skills of your board of advisers as consultants. As long as there is no conflict of interest created, this is a powerful asset to the CEO since the board members would already have a clear understanding of the issues and strengths of the organization, as well those of key executives.

Board meetings are powerful and remarkably free of politics. The back-and-forth discussions are aimed more at exploring options through different points of view than anyone campaigning for promotion or power. While there is some overlay in expertise in the board, we each have a role to fulfill in advising the CEO. But the conversations uncover significant insight and creative strategies in the areas where there is overlap.

And as a member of the board, I can tell you that I have learned a ton from my participation. The CEO set this up as a learning experience. No one at the table is getting their full day rate for our time at meetings. A couple have taken on major engagements. Others have so far done very little in the way of direct work for the company. But the value that the CEO gets with brain power like that around the table is priceless. And for those of us participating, it is like paid personal development days.

I will likely end up doing some coaching and development work for the leadership team, so my board participation is basically paid business development as well as professional development. 

But the person who benefits most is the CEO who put it together. He has five senior advisers around the table who would normally bill $5,000 each a day for a quarterly meeting that costs a fraction of that rate.

I. Barry Goldberg is a credentialed executive coach with a global client base. Reach out to him at barryg@ibgoldberg.com or visit his blog at ibarrygoldberg.substack.com
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