Why You Need a Personal Board of Directors
In the #BossTalks season finale, Salesforce Chief Philanthropy Officer Ebony Beckwith and The Cru CEO and founder Tiffany Dufu say a personal board of directors can help guide your career and life.
If you’ve listened to any of this season’s #BossTalks, Salesforce Chief Philanthropy Officer Ebony Beckwith’s LinkedIn Live show, you likely have heard her talk about Team E, her personal board of directors. It is this inner circle Beckwith credits with much of her success. She believes everyone can — and likely should — have a personal board of directors comprising mentors, coworkers, and even an acquaintance you admire. Setting up your personal board of directors doesn’t require a formal process, but does require some action. You may even already have your crew and not even realize it.
To discuss how to build your own Team E, Beckwith tapped Tiffany Dufu, author, speaker, and the CEO and founder of The Cru, a community of women committed to helping each other thrive, for the finale of #BossTalks. Dufu said her life’s purpose is to advance women and girls’ talent and ingenuity. She has always worked to bring women together to support each other, and feels when girls and women succeed, everyone benefits. The Cru matches groups of women based on personality, values, demographics, and life goals to support, coach, and guide each other — so Dufu knows something about creating a personal board of directors. In fact, she said having a crew keeps you accountable toward reaching your goals.
“Research shows we are 90% more likely to achieve our personal or professional goals when we have shared those with a person or group of people,” Dufu said.
Read on to learn about this and more from Dufu, including:
- Thinking of your journey as a team sport
- 3 key points to picking your crew
- The qualities of a personal board member
- Teaching your crew member to fish
Scroll down to read the transcript and watch the episode.
Thinking of your journey as a team sport
Many of us think to get ahead, we have to go it alone. That’s not the case, Dufu said. Rather, leaning on and learning from people around you can help you guide your future. Those people, ultimately, can be part of your personal board of directors. You just need to learn how to find them and engage and interact with them.
“We often perceive our journeys as if they’re solo endeavors, not team sports,” Dufu said. “I have a group of women I’ve been meeting with on a regular basis for about 12 years. I refer to them as my crew. We’ve been collaborating and holding one another accountable for realizing our ambitions. I realized the big pain point for a lot of women is they may know this is important, they may understand the concept theoretically of having a personal board of directors, of having a crew, but they don’t know where to find an amazing group of people.”
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3 key points to picking your crew
When thinking about who you want on your personal board of directors, Dufu said you need to take three things into consideration:
- Diversity: “I believe diversity is important to innovation, not just in the workplace, but also in our lives,” she said. “If you’re curating a group of people, they should not be people who you would have otherwise met necessarily. It’s very important to have different perspectives.”
- Objectivity: “Ensure these individuals are objective,” Dufu added. “You need a level of objectivity with this group of people. It’s important to have people who care about you, but who are not necessarily impacted by the decisions you make.”
- Accountability: “Sometimes we have people in our lives who we love communing with; they affirm us, they are great mirrors for us, but they don’t necessarily hold our feet to the fire in the way a crew can,” Dufu said. “If you’re just excited about shooting the breeze and having a few drinks, that’s probably more of a friendship group, not a personal board of directors. This is a group that’s very critical for ensuring you move your ambitions and goals forward in a very tangible way.”
Qualities of a personal board member
People you add to your board or your crew can come from different corners of your life. They can be mentors (those who help guide your career choices), sponsors (those who have your back, especially when you’re not in the room), coworkers, or even acquaintances. But when selecting your board, don’t choose people you’re very close with, such as friends or family members. Unless, of course, they can be objective and hold you accountable, instead of just propping you up and telling you what you want to hear.
“That’s what I mean when I say accountability,” Dufu said. “People who know what it is you want to realize and will not let you off the hook, but also are not there to rescue you or solve the problem for you.”
Teaching your crew member to fish
No one knows what’s best for you more than you. We may not always realize it or listen to that little voice or follow our gut. That’s why having a personal board of directors can help. This crew will help keep you on your path and will help remind you of your goals. But no one can help you feed yourself unless they teach you how to fish.
“Each of us has to come to our own conclusion about what matters most to us about what our highest and best use is in achieving what matters most to us,” Dufu said. “That’s work nobody else can do. One of the best things a crew member can do is to keep you at the center of your own experience, by not telling you what you need to do, by not doing it for you, but by holding the space and ensuring you do the work to realize your own intentions.”
Connect With Ebony
Want to stay connected to Ebony Beckwith? Follow her on LinkedIn and become part of her community.
Read the interview transcript and watch the episode.
Hello everyone, and welcome to the season finale of Boss Talks, a series featuring candid career conversations with people I admire and trust to keep it real.
Today’s episode is all about how to build your personal board of directors. Now, if you’ve been tuning into Boss Talks, you’ve probably heard me mention my personal board, that Team E, at least a million times. That’s because no matter where you are in your career journey, whether you’re learning to embrace authenticity or letting go of perfectionism, we all need the support of others to open doors and help us get to where we want to be. Now, navigating this journey can be difficult, and I honestly don’t think that we were meant to go at it alone. That’s because you’re the CEO of your own personal board and you get to decide who gets a seat at that table. How about that?
Now at this point, some of you are probably thinking, well, that sounds good, but you might also be wondering who do I invite, or how do I find the right people to join me? Have no fear, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this episode. To help me unpack this topic I’ve invited someone I know knows a thing or two about finding your crew. Tiffany Dufu is a brilliant author and speaker. She’s also founder and CEO of The Cru, a community of women committed to helping each other thrive.
Tiffany, welcome to Boss Talks. We are so excited to have you here with us today.
Well thank you for having me here.
Tiffany, I’d love to start by giving everyone an opportunity to get to know you a little bit better. Tell us how you got started and what led you to create The Cru.
I am the cumulative investment of a lot of people. What led me here is my life’s purpose. My life’s work is advancing women and girls. That’s pretty much why I’m on the planet. I do mean that literally. Every job I’ve ever had, every dollar I’ve donated, every board I’ve sat on, every article, every social media post except for some cute ones of each of my kids, have been about how do we harness women and girls’ talent and ingenuity for the benefit of all of us. I’ve been a part of building communities that are about bringing women together to support one another. I was on the launch team for Lean In, I’m a big proponent of Lean In circles. What really drove me to The Cru has to do with my one-on-one conversations with women that I’ve been having since 2012. I basically meet with six or seven women a week. I am obsessed with listening to women’s stories and finding out what we need.
One of the observations that I’ve made is that even though we often have a lot of people around us, our family, our friends, our coworkers, as you mentioned in your introduction, we often perceive our journeys as if they’re solo endeavors, not team sports. I know that my journey has not been a solo endeavor. I have a group of individuals, of women who I’ve been meeting with on a regular basis for about 12 years now. I refer to them as my crew. You can think of them as your personal board of directors. We’ve been collaborating and holding one another accountable for realizing our ambitions. I realized that the big pain point for a lot of women is that they may know that this is important, they may understand the concept theoretically of having a personal board of directors, of having a crew, but they don’t know where, Ebony, to find an amazing group of people.
The way that The Cru works is that you apply to become a member and we take the information about you and match you with seven other individuals. You then get your crew, your personal board of directors, and you collaborate to meet your life goals together.
That’s amazing. Now I saw a picture of your crew on the website. Everyone go and take a look. You all look like a very fun group. I know my crew has made all the difference in my career. It’s been a lifesaver to have a network of people who are really willing to help, whether it’s mentoring me or mentioning my name for an opportunity, or serving as a sounding board for me when I need to talk something out, or sometimes when I need to vent, we’ve all been there. Why do you think it’s so important to have a support system specifically when it comes to our careers?
I think it’s incredibly important for a number of reasons. I think the most important aspects of a crew, and some of you may already have a group of people that you may consider or think of as your personal board of directors or your crew, but there’s three aspects of this group of people that I think are really important that you should do a gut check on.
The first is whether or not this group of people are diverse. I actually believe that diversity is important to innovation, not just in the workplace, but also in our lives and that if you’re curating a group of people, they should not be people who you would have otherwise met necessarily. I think that’s very important to have different perspectives.
The second thing is to ensure that these individuals are objective. This is why I actually think that having a crew or having a personal board of directors is a different social category than your friends or your family or your neighbors or your coworkers. This is because you need a level of objectivity with this group of people. It’s important to have a group of people who care about you, but who are not necessarily impacted by the decisions that you make, it’s very important.
Then lastly is really around accountability. Sometimes we have groups of people in our lives, who we love communing with. They affirm us, they are great mirrors for us, but they don’t necessarily hold our feet to the fire in the way that a crew can. If you’re going meet with your personal board of directors and you’re thinking, Ooh, I didn’t do X, Y or Z. I said, I wasn’t going to do that the last time that I met with them, that group is probably working for you. If you’re just excited about going and shooting the breeze and having a few drinks, that’s probably more of a friendship group, not necessarily a personal board of directors. I think this is a group of people that’s very critical for ensuring that you move your ambitions and your goals forward in a very tangible way.
Research shows that we are 90% more likely to achieve our personal or professional goals when we have shared those with a person or group of people, and when we have regular check-ins with those individuals in order to ensure our progress. That’s how it functions in a really healthy way.
Tiffany, let me just make sure that I’m clear on this and our audience is clear. We talked about your tips for selecting your board. It shouldn’t be family, not necessarily your friends, although they can merge into your friends later on. What about your manager, or a colleague, someone like that?
I think it’s really important to have mentors in our lives. It’s important to have sponsors in our lives. There are people in the workplace who you do need to excel. You need someone in the workplace, as you know, Ebony, because you’ve had to have these people to get to where you are in your career, that when you’re not in the room, they’re talking about you. They’re telling people that you’re a superstar. They’re ensuring that when someone’s name comes up for promotion, that it’s your name. That’s what sponsorship is. It’s someone on the inside who’s really leveraging their capital on your behalf. You need that, absolutely. That person doesn’t have to be in your personal board of directors. They don’t actually need to know the good, the bad or the ugly. They just need to know you’re a superstar to do that.
Simultaneously, you might need people in your life who are mentors, people who have been around the block more often than you. They can be in the workplace. They can be people who helped de-mystify the culture of the workplace. It’s great when you start any job, for example, to make sure that you have mentors. These are people who help you to achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement. Their highest value is in what they say to you when you’re in the room with them. Again, those people don’t have to be in your personal board of directors. They can absolutely be as long as they can maintain a level of objectivity. It’s really if someone is your best friend and they’re your coworker and they’re your mentor, that it may be difficult for them to be in your personal board of directors. Just keep that in mind and also keep in mind that people who are certainly in your crew, in your personal board of directors, are people who there is some reciprocity. There’s a symbiotic meaning in an ideal world, you’re doing what they’re doing for you. You’re doing that for them.
Tiffany, if we have someone in mind to be in our crew or on our personal board, but we don’t really know them yet, but we think this person would be ideal to be my crew, can it be someone that you don’t know yet? If yes, do you have advice for approaching them? If no, tell us why not?
Well, absolutely yes. We spend all day, every day matching circles of women who do not know one another, that’s part of the value proposition of the group. I can assure you it’s possible to have an effective, healthy relationship, we call it cru-ship with an individual who’s holding you accountable, who you don’t have a personal intimate relationship with, or who you don’t know.
The question is, outside of a framework like our company where everybody’s joining for that purpose, how do you approach them and ask for what you need? I do think that it’s helpful for them to have some sense of who you are. Taking someone on a virtual coffee, or a virtual lunch, and sharing your story is important. I think it’s also important to understand what you might be able to offer that person. Asking them, where are you at in your journey? Is there anything that you’re trying to do that I might be able to support you on? Introduce the concept to them, let them know that you’re really looking at developing a group of people who can support one another in really taking each other to the next level. You can use the analogy of a mountain. You’re all tethered to one another and you’re climbing the mountain together, ensuring that everyone reaches the top. I would position the ask as a mutually beneficial relationship that you would like to engage in and that you want to involve other people.
Absolutely it does not need to be a person that you already know. You can reach out to them and let them know what you’re trying to do. You’d be surprised how many people are also looking for community and will be very happy to engage in that conversation.
That’s right, especially now.
I think we all need that, craving that connection now more than ever.
Tiffany, one thing you talk a lot about, which I love is the notion of accountability. We want people in our crew, on our board, who keep us honest, and as you say, hold our feet to the fire, make us a little bit uncomfortable. What qualities should we be looking for in our crew members?
People who are very confident, people who you trust. That you trust that their highest interest is in your growth and in your development. When I say confidence, I mean people who don’t actually need you in order for them to thrive. They want you to take up more space.
A good accountability moment for me happened years ago. I had expressed to my crew that I wanted to write a book and every three or four months, I would see one of my crew members, it was Reshma, at events, and she would say, “Tiffany, when are you going to write this book? What’s the progress on the book?” One day I got a bit snippy with her because at that time she didn’t have kids. I had two kids, I was really busy running an organization. I’m like, “Listen, I don’t have time to write this book.” She looked at me and she said, “I think chapter one should be about why women don’t have time to write books.” It was very clear to me in that moment, this is a person who was not going to let me back out on the ambition that I have for myself. That’s what I mean when I say accountability. People who know what it is that you want to realize and will not let you off the hook, but also are not there to rescue you or solve the problem for you.
Why is that important? That piece, that they are not rescuing you.
Tiffany Dufu (12:50):
Because each one of us is the most powerful change agent in our own journey. If any of you have ever tried to save someone in your life, you’ve probably figured out that that doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because each one of us has to come to our own conclusion about what matters most to us about what our highest and best use is in achieving what matters most to us. That’s work that nobody else can do.
One of the best things that a crew member can do is to keep you at the center of your own experience, by not telling you what you need to do, by not doing it for you, but by holding the space and ensuring that you do the work to realize your own intentions.
I love that. It’s like that give a man a fish or teach them how to fish concept.
That’s it. That’s it.
That’s great. Now, I know reciprocity is listed as one of your core beliefs, and I absolutely couldn’t agree more. I like to think of these relationships as two way streets and that’s because you really do get what you give. Share your perspective on this. I know you have a lot to say on reciprocity.
I believe that reciprocity is meta, but it also is micro as well. It’s meta in that whatever you put out into the universe is what’s going to come back to you, but it may not come back to you in exactly the way that you put it out.
If you want to negotiate for a salary increase, you’re going to have to put that out into the universe. If you want to expand your network, you are going to have to help other people expand their networks. If you want mentorship, who are you mentoring? If you’re not mentoring anyone, how are you expecting that the universe is going to provide for you a mentor? There’s that Metta level of reciprocity, but there’s also the reciprocity that comes with being intentional about the way in which your personal board of directors operates. This is in some ways it’s about logistics.
For example, at The Cru, every gathering that a crew has, and crews meet on a monthly basis, each person takes a turn going around and giving an update on their intentions, on their goals. Then their crew peppers them with a series of open-ended questions. What have you tried so far? What do you feel like is blocking you? Who else needs to be involved? What is the next thing you’re going to do in order to move this forward? One person, while they’re being crew coached, is the note taker. You need someone who’s holding the space for you and ensuring that you can just remain present. Another person in your crew is your timekeeper. We honor time. You have to make sure in a crew that everyone has an opportunity to share. In this way, even in a crew gathering, in a meeting, there’s reciprocity. No one’s allowed to say, “I’ll be the timekeeper for everybody,” or, “I’ll be the note taker for everybody.” Everyone gives and receives just like the ocean, it comes and it goes. I think that’s really important in relationships especially, to be honest. In female focused relationships where oftentimes there might be one person who’s kind of goading everyone, who’s always organizing, who’s always coordinating. It’s really important that we have reciprocity in that way as well.
I actually love that. Tiffany, tell us how your board has evolved over time. We get a lot of questions about new mentors and people who are at new junctions in their careers, or wanting to find new mentors based on new career fields or changes. How do you change and evolve and grow this crew?
I think part of that will depend on your personality and on your affect. I am an introvert, despite what it looks like right now, meaning that I derive a lot of energy from being alone. I really value relationships that I’ve sustained over a long period of time. That means that I really value a ride or die crew, meaning that it’s the same group of people.
Earlier in my career, what was very important was that I did have people in my universe that were much more senior than me because I needed to be able to get feedback about everything from my executive presence and how I showed up to what was happening in the workplace. I needed a lot of guidance. Over time what’s happened is that my crew, my personal board of directors and the people in my life have largely become peers, meaning that we’re all at a very similar level. We are now at a point where transactionally, we can move one another forward, meaning we can expand our social, our economic, our political capital on one another. I can write a book and one of the members of my crew can say, “Make sure that you save this date because you’re going to come to my company and you’re going to speak, and we’re going to buy 300 copies of your book.” I can grow the parts of my platform and my life and my career with them.
I think that early on in your career, it’s really important to have a number of people who are more senior than you. I think at some point you’re going to move to a place where you’re peers and you’re all working simultaneously together in order to elevate everyone.
I really appreciate you double clicking into that. I’m sure others do as well. I want to go back to you though. Again, you are a mother of two, so I’d love to hear how you’re helping your kids build their networks early. We have a lot of parents who are watching. What do you have for parents and their many bosses?
Yes. Oh, I love that, their many bosses. First of all, I think it’s really important to keep in mind that parenting is very personal, everyone does it differently. My parenting strategy, and I have a 12 year old and I have a 15 year old at this point, so that’s the stage that I’m at, my parenting strategy for a long time has been to spend 80% of my energy just trying to be the kind of person that I would want my kids to be. I spend 20% of my energy making sure they’ve got vegetables in their stomach and that they go to a good school and they’ve got clothes on their back. That, for me, is my drop the ball strategy. It’s more efficient for me than anything else.
The first thing I would say is that if you want to teach your children to understand the value of having an ecosystem, of having their own personal board of directors, of having their own crew, you need to have one. They need to see you transacting and spending time with them, with those individuals. They need to see you when you go off and you say, “Bye.” Or when you get on the Zoom or the Cisco Webex, or the Team, you need to say, “Hey, I can’t talk to you right now. I’m meeting with my crew. I’m meeting with my personal board of directors.” At the dinner table, you should let them know what your personal board of directors is helping you with. What are they helping you on? They need to see you activating people in your life. Most importantly, they need to hear you and see you explicitly asking for help from other people in order to move your personal and professional life forward.
Then the other thing I’ll say, probably because I have tweens right now, is you need to make them talk on the phone with people. You need to make them pick up the phone like it’s 1982, and look people in the eye. My daughter is a girl scout and I do not sell any of her cookies, every sale she has to make herself. She’ll be fierce at Salesforce one day.
She has to do it herself because I need her to get into the practice of looking people in the eye, of solicitation, of actually developing real relationships with people, because the one thing that I do get about is that my kids don’t understand your brand is the conversation that people have about the real you, their real interaction with you. It has nothing to do with your followers on social media. That’s just a house of cards. Really modeling that for them, but also really pushing them to value human relationships and to be the kind of people that someone would want to invest in.
I have so many things to say about that. If anyone who has followed you or has read your book, Drop the Ball, knows that you have a strategy for just about everything. When you responded with, “My parenting strategy,” it was really great because we know you have a good one.
I really do like what you said about really making them accountable for their own success and not helping them. Kind of like what you said earlier about your crew. We’re not going to jump in and save. We’re going to allow them to become those mini bosses and help them build those skills.
I remember early in my career, my mother… I was very shy, I’m also an introvert. I’m an extroverted introvert. My mother used to make me tell her the color of my interviewer’s eyes if I went to an interview. Because I was so shy, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t keep my eye contact up. She said, “Remember when you come back home, you’re going to have to tell me what color this person’s eyes were.” I was always very focused on the eye contact.
Exactly. Another woman who had a parenting strategy, we can dive into that in another episode.
I love it.
Thank you for answering that. If you haven’t gone out and read Tiffany’s book, Drop the Ball, definitely a wonderful read.
Our final question, and you are the final person of this season to answer it, so no pressure, no pressure. What is your superpower?
My super power is helping other people to achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement. If you need that, I’m totally here for it. Some people say that I should have been a coach, a professional coach and had a coaching practice. Certainly, regardless of what my job description has ever been in a role, when there was a going away party, because I was leaving and moving off to the next opportunity, that was the impact that I had created in the organization and the impact that I had on people. Just always remember that what you do is far less important than the difference you make, especially in people’s lives, and that that, in a lot of ways can be our super power. I feel like that’s mine.
That’s wonderful. Tiffany, thank you so much for joining us today. I definitely want you on my crew and I know everyone else does as well. You’ve given us so many good tips and insights today, and I just want to thank you so much for being so authentic and sharing with us.
Thank you for having me.
I know you’ve got questions on this topic, so let’s hear them.
Hi, Ebony. My question is, do you need different board members at different stages of your career?
Hi, Jennifer. Thank you so much for your question. Really, the good news is there’s no right or wrong way to build your personal board of directors. Mine certainly has ebbed and flowed over the years. There are some people who have been around since the very beginning and then there are others who have joined along the way, and I’ve appreciated having that balance. As Tiffany mentioned, the important thing is just surround yourself with people who you trust and who can help keep you accountable, holding those feet to the fire, making you feel a little bit nervous to hit those deliverables and things that you said you would do. Just remember that at the end of the day, you are the CEO of your board and all decisions are ultimately up to you.
Thank you so much for sending us your questions. While this season has come to a close, you can still ask your questions in the comments on our LinkedIn page, or send me a tweet at Ebony Beckwith using hashtag #BossTalks.
I really hope you all enjoyed today’s conversation on building your personal board. Now to continue building valuable skills for your career, head on over to Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform that helps anyone skill up for in-demand jobs in the Salesforce ecosystem.
Now, before we close, I want to say thank you. Thank you so much for tuning into this season of Boss Talks. It has been so much fun and I’ve loved seeing all the questions, comments, and emojis flying over the past few weeks. This is really a special community and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. Please connect with us on social and keep your eye on LinkedIn for updates on what’s next. Now with that, I’m Ebony Beckwith and thank you for tuning in to Boss Talk.