Being a leader or business owner can be really isolating. Especially over the past year, there have been so many unknowns, you’ve had to make major changes to your business, respond quickly to ever-changing information, and maintain all of the other aspects of your life at the same time. Even if and when things are going well, trying to figure out the “next right step” is really hard. It can feel like we’re in that struggle alone.
A lot of the business owners I work with have the tendency to swing on either side of the pendulum in response to this feeling of isolation. Some take the Lone Ranger approach. Their inner voice is saying: “You need to suck it up and hustle more. Work harder, do more. It will be easier when you get to that milestone or accomplish that goal.” And while that voice is good at getting our noses down to the grindstone, it also inevitably leads to exhaustion and burnout.
The other approach I’ve seen leaders take in response to isolation is to lean into as much input as possible. The logic is “If I just attend one more webinar or sign up for this coaching package, then I’ll get the clarity I’ve been craving.” But in our pursuit for feeling prepared, we’re unintentionally trapped in a feedback treadmill. We’re expending all sorts of energy—but going nowhere.
How do we free ourselves from feeling isolated without going too far down the path of information and opinion overload? Cultivate your own personal board of directors—a network of supportive individuals—people who ask good questions and give you space to process; individuals who inspire and push you to be brave; those who have gone ahead of you and are willing to share their insights while making space for your story to unfold uniquely.
With a personal board, we don’t have to go it alone, nor do we have to listen to every voice that comes our way. I’d bet you already have some people who you seek out when you need perspective. But I think it’s worth taking an intentional look at whose advice we seek out.
Who Should You Invite on Your Board?
Wisdom and self-awareness don’t happen in isolation. And as business owners or leaders, hearing the insights, observations, and wise perspectives of a trusted few can help us make decisions with confidence.
I’m not suggesting that the people on your board actually meet together around a conference table or Zoom. You might connect one-on-, text when you’re feeling stuck, or even just consider what this person might say about the circumstance you’re facing. The people on your board might not even be people you’ve met, but leaders or voices that help you align with wisdom.
I think it’s important to invite a diverse range of perspectives and voices onto your board. Here are some qualifications for the types of people to be on your board:
Your biggest encouragers—those who always see and bring out the best in you.
The straight-talkers—people who are willing to ask you the hard questions and point out potential blind spots.
Mentors and coaches—whether paid or informal, it’s so valuable to have people who are intentional about helping you in the places you feel stuck.
Industry experts—learn those who have been successful in doing what you’re trying to do, both in the pitfalls to avoid and secrets to their success.
Inspiring leaders—break out of limited thinking by considering how other people in diverse industries approach their work.
People who don’t look, act, vote, or think like you—it is far too easy to get stuck in an echo chamber, but intentionally seeking out diverse perspectives will help you see the nuance in your situation.
Who Should You Kick Off Your Board?
While you are building your network of support, it’s equally important to consider which voices aren’t helpful or worth listening to. Especially if you have people-pleasing tendencies, it’s dangerously easy to give certain people too much space in our head or vote in our decisions.
This is different for everyone, but here are some of the people I’ve realized I need to create stronger boundaries with.
If they consistently lead with suggestions, rather than listening first—I tend to lose my voice or question my own intuition in the presence of those who see every conversation with me as an invitation to “fix my problem.”
If they lack curiosity—those who have a fixed mindset aren’t going to be able to help me find creative solutions to nuanced situations.
If I often feel drained after being around them—needing to recover after being around someone is my body signaling a boundary that’s being crossed.
If they have a scarcity mindset–this can be subtle, but if someone is stuck in comparison, threatened by someone else’s success, or driven by fear rather than trusting the process, their view of the world takes me off the paths I want to take.
If I notice I’m trying to impress or please them—there will always be people whose opinions matter a lot to us, but when proving myself takes precedence over doing my next right thing, I know I need to take a step back.
Who Actually Gets to Vote?
At the end of the day, you are the one who ultimately has to make the hard decisions. Surrounding yourself with wise and insightful people takes away that feeling of isolation—but think of these people as more board of advisors, not board of directors. When it comes to the decisions of your business and your life, decision by committee doesn’t work well in the long run.
Your intuition (or Your Little Knower, as my friend Krystal likes to call it) is who gets to make the final call for a wholehearted decision. Your intuition is your innermost wisdom. The You that is most interested in living a vibrant and purposeful life, and less about success or approval or hustle. It can take some practice (and diligence to silence the onslaught of extra noise) but when you can learn to recognize the quiet stirrings of your intuition, you’ll know the next thing.
Our board of advisors should be the people in our lives who help us recognize and name that deeper wisdom of intuition. I’ve learned to distrust the people who have all the answers, but it’s the kindred spirits who help me know I’m not alone in the searching that ends up giving me the best guidance.