Monday, September 30, 2013

Who Helps You Make Important Decisions?

For thousands of years, wise leaders have assembled people around them to help them make good decisions. This practice can easily be found throughout the pages of history, but it also persists today – among the best leaders.

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Sometimes those serving in this capacity are in formal positions: cabinet members, board of directors, and some even hold a title of advisor or counselor. In ancient days, they were sometimes called “Wise Men.”

While all these more formal manifestations may be insightful, I’m more intrigued by a different form of advisory group – informal advisors. History tells us that some of our presidents assembled a group known as their Kitchen Cabinet. The name was not to signal the group’s influence on the menu in the White House, but because they met in the kitchen rather than the cabinet room — an informal gathering of individuals assembled to provide unvarnished truth to the most powerful man in the world.

Another informal format for this same counsel can be found in a virtual board of directors – you might even use the term imaginary, because this type of board never actually meets. The wisdom this group provides is from a distance.

I’ve long been aware that great leaders seek wise counsel, and I’ve tried to do that my entire life. Many years ago, the idea of a virtual board was introduced to me by Andy Andrews. Some of you know Andy’s work. He’s been a New York Times best-selling author multiple times. He’s a great communicator and one of the best story-tellers I know. His book, The Traveler’s Gift, continues to have a significant impact in my life.

Andy suggested, although this virtual group of men and women might never be in the same room, their collective wisdom could still inform my own thoughts and decisions.

The approach made sense to me, so I’ve been using it for years. Here are a few ideas that may be helpful to you if you decide to give it a try.

Selection – I don’t know what the right number is for your “virtual board.” For me, a small number makes the most sense – five or six work for me. If you have many more than that, it will be hard to execute on the ideas that follow. Also, I believe you need to be very careful regarding who you put “on the board.” Do you trust them? Do you value their perspective?

Preparation – The essence of this idea is to benefit from the wisdom and experience of others – just like a real board. So, if you don’t have the benefit of having these people in the room with you, you need to prepare. In this step you’re attempting to get your board member’s perspective and borrow their wisdom. My recommendation is to read as much as you can of their work. If they have audio programming available or recordings of presentations, listen to that as well. As I think about two of my members, I’ve probably heard 500 hours of their audio recordings.

Synthesis – The idea of a virtual board is a little different from a virtual mentor – a mentor is generally singular, a board is plural. Therefore, this final idea is to do the mental exercise of combining what you believe your individual board members would say and extracting your best conclusion.

A virtual board will never replace the counsel we receive from those closest to us, nor should it. But the cost to expand your counselors to include virtual members is minimal and the potential return is huge.

None of us are as smart as all of us. Wise leaders seek counsel from others – even if it has to be done virtually.

For those interested, Andy Andrews has a new book coming out this week – The Noticer Returns. I will read it right away. Thanks Andy for continuing to add value to my life – you’re a great virtual board member!

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Comments (4)
  1. Is it lonely at the top?

    - cole
    • Not if you’ve done it right. Mark

  2. Excellent and vibrant presentation. THANKS

    - Rafi Sheikh
    • Rafi, thanks for your comment! I hope you’ll continue to find my posts helpful. Mark