How I Built the Board of Pete

Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

I originally produced this content for a presentation I gave to students from the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship during their yearly Bay Area Trek. Excited to share with a wider audience.

Relationships Fuel Entrepreneurship

As an entrepreneur you need relationships to help you achieve your dreams. Further more, Entrepreneurs are intentional about relationships.


Let's run an experiment ...

  • Choose a person who knows you best (Parent, sibling, best friend)
  • Ask this person to describe you with 5 adjectives (Don't Look!)
  • List 5 of your closest relationships (school, social, work) - People you spend the most time with.
  • For each of these people, write 3 adjectives that describe them (energetic, thoughtful, resilient)

Now compare the words used to describe you and the words you used to describe the 5 closest people to you. What similarities can you find among the descriptions written about you and what you wrote about your other relationships?

Can you name each of these "people"? ;-)

Can you name each of these "people"? ;-)

The beauty of this experiment is how it causes you to think about how your close relationships impact who you are and how you behave.  

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.
-- Jim Rohn 

Here’s how this might look for me ;-)


It Takes a Team to Win!

Entrepreneurs always win with a team. A team of co-founders, employees, advisors, mentors, investors, etc. Winning with a team is a glorious feeling. We all want to be on a winning team, don’t we?
A team that: 

  • challenges, guides, supports, and teaches us.
  • is resilient, adapts to challenges, matures and evolves together.
  • transcends changes in your role, experience, companies you work for or start yourself.
  • you are a part of as long as you like.
  • has fun together!

Don't you want to be on a team like that!?


The Board of You

Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

Of course the “team” is really your “Personal Board of Directors”. I have one, it’s called “The Board of Pete”. The Board of Pete started about 7 years ago. I collected several of my closest colleagues and friends. People I trust implicitly, familiar with my strengths and “opportunities for growth”, and most importantly, willing and able to hold up a mirror for me to see into my blindspots.

I thought having a personal board of directors was my original idea. Little did I know that Jim Collins talked about a personal board of directors as early as 1996. Recently the CFO of Square published her thoughts on the matter.

Today, The Board of Pete helps steward my goals and dreams, find opportunities to work with new people and build new skills, test ideas, and often – a true reflection of who I am.

Most of the time I reach out to individual members of the board for advice, much like you would with any mentor. Occasionally I’ll send a message or update to the group. I see them socially as a group as well.


Intentional Relationships

You might be asking: “Isn’t he talking about mentors?”


I think what separates JaBoM (just a bunch of mentors) from a Board of You is your board members are Intentional Relationships.

Maybe you think an Intentional Relationship is just another way of saying the relationship is manufactured, sterile, vacant of “chemistry”. ;-)



Here is another way to think about it: Intentionality filters who you invite to your board, not necessarily your personal and professional relationships.


3 Qualities of an Intentional Relationship

Put another way, an Intentional Relationship is a relationship with these qualities:

  • Previous shared experiences

  • Active relationship

  • Meaningful roles

Shared Experience

It’s what you do together that makes the relationship matter. Having a shared experience with a potential board member is essential because the experience provides context. You’ve been through something together. You won or lost together. You learned together. You probably saw each other at your bests and not-so-bests. You know how each other work under pressure and how you like to have fun.

Active Relationship

You’ve kept up with the potential board member. They come to mind when you read an article you’d like to share. Perhaps you meet for an occasional coffee. You send / receive an occasional email / txt. You share some of the same values. There is some chemistry underlying the friendship.

Meaningful Roles

In the same way diversity strengthens and improves a team’s resilience, diversity of roles on your board is essential. Each of your board members should have an insight about you - they should see something in you perhaps hidden to others. Each board member coaches you in a specific area.


Identifying Potential Board Members

Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

Let’s use these qualities to identify potential board members for the Board of You!

  1. List the projects / teams / jobs you’ve held in the last 3 years
  2. For each of those projects / jobs, list 3 key people with whom you’ve worked most closely.
    E.g. Teammates, project leaders, bosses, people you’ve managed, etc
  3. Of those, with whom did you have chemistry, a spark of a deeper relationship? (Circle Them!)
  4. Review the key areas in which you would like to improve, be coached.
Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

Which candidates could play one or more of the coaching roles you identified? Which roles?

Keep in mind other areas in which people can help you, and therefore filter and match for potential board members.

  • Growth opportunities (where you need to improve)
  • Skills you want to develop in the next 1-2 years
  • Projects you want to work on in the next 1-2 years
  • Roles / jobs you want in the 2-3 years

From this exercise you should arrive at least 2 or 3 potential board members.


Prioritizing Board Members

Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

The obvious next step is to prioritize the potential board members. This is pretty straightforward.

  1. List the 2 or 3 people from the previous Exercise
  2. Prioritize your opportunities for coaching / guidance
  3. Match coaching priorities to your potential board members

This is an example for matching on skill prioritization. Remember, there are other ways to go about matching up potential board members:

growth opportunities, skill development, projects / experience / roles you want to work on in the next 1-2 years.


Building the Board of You

Now that you’ve identified 1 or 2 or more potential board members, it’s time to found your first board.

If you’ve only identified one person - that’s fine, it's all you need to get started.

If you did not identify anyone, that’s ok too. There are strategies to create new intentional relationships.

Founding your board the first time requires a bit more work. However, each iteration is easier because you benefit from previous work and structure you put in place. Indeed, in the spirit of “Lean Startup”: prototype, test, and iterate.

In my experience I start the process by best matching the areas in which I want to be coached to a potential board member.
Then I invite them to the Board of Pete!

Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

Inviting Potential Board Members

I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to invite people to your board. The key is clarity of your desired outcome and articulating the role you are asking them to play. 

Be authentic, honest, vulnerable, humble.

Being vulnerable with someone can build trust very quickly. The authenticity and humility of knowing what you want to improve and asking someone for help is a powerful element in building the relationship.

Here is an example:

“Hi JoAnn - I’m putting together a group of people I admire, respect and can learn from. I call it  the “Board of Pete”. I was thinking back to our time on the project and about how effective a communicator your are. It’s something I want to work on as well. I was wondering if you are interested in meeting from time to time to share some of your practices….”

If you have more than one potential board member, start by reaching out to the one you feel the deeper connection. It will make it easier to talk through your “pitch” to have them join the group.

It may help to invite the potential board member to coffee or a meal to discuss in person.


Managing the Board of You

Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock

As your career evolves so do your interests and opportunities for growth.

Therefore, the Board of You must evolve as well.

Just as a CEO must manage her company’s board of directors, you must manage and cultivate your board. You must actively engage each member and the group as a whole in order for this to work and work well. I like to think of the whole process as a cycle. Continuously nurturing, evaluating and evolving the Board of You.

Let's take a closer look at the rest of the cycle.


Nurturing your Board

Nurturing is an active role … it requires effort on your part as well as the board members. 
At it’s best your board can act as a lifeline - you can reach out to the group or individuals at a moment’s notice to ask advice. 

Too often people on boards are neglected for too long. The boards (and sometimes the relationships) wither and dissolve. The worst case is reaching out to your board during a critical time and your board members don’t have enough vested interest to engage you in a meaningful way.

The simplest way to nurture your board is to keep in touch on a periodic basis.  Here are some ideas of how to nurture your board and members:

  • Periodic updates in person or via email or txt
  • Unsolicited help with your board member’s efforts
  • 1-on-1 meetings (coffee, a meal, skype)
  • Periodic group outings -- fun and educational - more shared experiences
Photo: Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock


Evaluate your Board

As chairperson of your board you must evaluate your needs and overall fit with the board members. Identifying gaps on your board and developing new board members is an ongoing process.

One of the more exciting situations is identifying skills, opportunities and experiences you desire.

Create New Shared Experiences

My favorite way of developing additional skills, experiences and opportunities is by identifying and working with a person with those skills and experiences.

I look for people I already have a relationship with or have access to and then pitch a project to work on together. I find a way to create a shared experience with that person. It’s this hands-on approach to learning I love the most. 

Through these shared experiences you increase the potential for an active relationship. You can identify a role she can play on your Board. I’ve made a career of finding the intersection of skills & experiences I want AND people I want to learn from AND a market need or business solution. I call this a “Principle-Led Career” and it deserves a separate blog post.

Marching orders for you: Observe who you admire and consider their qualities, skills, personality, etc driving that admiration and respect. Then find and create opportunities to collaborate in some way with that person. This is the first step of creating a shared experience – the first part of an intentional relationship.

Evolve your Board

As you accumulate more shared experiences and invest in active relationships, you build more candidates for your Board.

Routinely ask yourself: "where do I need more coaching" -- Be intentional and select specific people to help fill gaps on your board.  

Barring some falling out or dissolution of the relationship, there is no need to remove (fire) a Board member. The natural ebb and flow of your career means that you might gravitate toward the more active relationships. Just remember to reach out to the whole Board with a periodic update. The cycle continues - back to nurturing the board! 


In Summary!

  1. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with
  2. Focus on what excites you in terms of skills and growth opportunities
  3. Build Intentional Relationships
  4. Actively nurture your relationships to match your evolving needs
  5. Enjoy a meaningful and impactful career!

72-hour Rule - Act on What you've Learned

I learned the power of the 72-hour rule from my boss, Carl Eschenbach, at VMware (now at Sequoia Capital).

To ingrain what you’ve learned today commit to three activities within the next three days. I find it helpful to document in writing. Some go further and publish their commitments to the world -- social pressure to follow up on your commitments is a powerful force.

What steps will you take to build the Board of You!?


Thank you for reading and Please let me know your thoughts!