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Why everyone should have a ‘personal board of directors’

Posted on 07 August 2018 by Calvin

In 1998 Jim Zugschwert was laid off from his job. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to about the layoff. I had a young family and ­didn’t know who to talk to. My wife just wanted me to do something,” Zugschwert recalled. He eventually found another job, but it was a struggle.

Fast forward to 2012. Zugschwert found himself caught up in another company layoff. But this time, he found a better-paying and more suitable position within a short time.

The difference? Zugschwert attributes it to his personal board of directors, a few mentors he had in place to assist him in moving forward.

Como resident Zugschwert’s success with this personal board led him to recently publish a book,

“Peak Perspective: Develop Your Personal Board of Directors and Become the Leader You Were Meant to Be.”

Photo right: Jim Zugschwert (Photo by Jan Willms)

Around 2007 Zugschwert was invited to join a group of men for some training. A man named Robert Lewis, author of the Men’s Fraternity series, advised in that training that everyone should have his own personal board.

“At that time in my life I was working with a company that had a traditional board of directors that set policy and governance and had oversight. I wanted the idea but not the structure,” Zugschwert explained.

“So I set out to line up one or two key people, and I came to the realization that having one mentor can almost be considered having another opinion.” Zugschwert wanted more, so he started looking around in his life for men of influence, men he looked up to.

“One by one I started inviting people to coffee, to talk. If it made sense for me, I would take the next step and ask them to be on my personal board of directors.”

Zugschwert noted that he has some very good friends who are not a part of his personal board. “The reason is, they are great people, and I love them, but sometimes people can be prescribers. You tell them what is going on, and they will say ‘Oh, just do this.’ They never listen. They never ask questions. They never give feedback. I wanted to make sure I was looking for people who can understand me, help me clarify my thinking, expand my perspective and make quality decisions for my life.”

Photo left: The official book launch event for Zugschwert’s new book was held in mid-July in Roseville at the brand-new Cedarholm Golf Course Community Building. (Photo provided)

Most people write books about what it means to be a good mentor, according to Zugschwert. “I wanted to come at it from another perspective,” he continued. “If you are at a crossroads in your life or you’re an entrepreneur that wants to make a difference in the next ten years, how do you go about it? How do I put together a good team of mentors?”

Zugschwert said he thinks back to that initial layoff in 1998 and how he did not know where to turn or who to ask for help. After that experience, he set out to put together a plan. “Mentorship became an important part of my life,” he said. He said the criteria he used to choose his board of directors came down to four things. “Number one, they had to listen. Number two, they had to ask questions. Number three, they had to give me honest feedback. And finally, they could give me some suggestions.”

Taking a long time to build up relationships with his mentors was essential to Zugschwert. “I didn’t want people who would tell me what I wanted to hear,” he said. “I wanted them to know here is what I’m thinking, here are the opportunities before me, here’s what I know so far. Then they can talk to me, ask me questions, and give me some ideas for another way to think about it.”

Zugschwert said he would then take some of that feedback from one meeting and meet with another member of his board and do some confirming or some fine tuning.

“By the time I was done talking to three or four mentors, I had a well-rounded point of view and thinking, so I could make a quality decision. I had great input from the people who would listen to me. Honest feedback is a key criterion,” Zugschwert said.

Zugschwert emphasized the importance of working with a personal board of directors whether facing a challenge or an opportunity.

When he was going through his layoff in 2012, Zugschwert said that he had two pages of notes he had taken on his idea to form a personal board of directors, and how he went about it. At that time he was meeting with a publisher about the possibility of writing a book, and he also mentioned his interest in writing a book about mentoring.

He said the publishers thought his other book idea was great, but they were really interested in the book about mentoring.

“So I set the other book aside and pursued the book on mentoring, with my two pages of notes,” Zugschwert said. “I turned it into ten chapters and 32,000 words.”

He started writing “Peak Perspective” in May 2017 and completed it in November 2017. His book was published this summer.

Zugschwert said that when he started to build his personal board of directors, he did not have anyone turn him down. Two of his mentors live out of state; three live in Minnesota. “By the time I asked, we had already been talking for some time,” he said. “I had already invested in them. Some of them took time, and they did not all happen overnight.”

All of his mentors are in different industries.

Today, Zugschwert mentors also come to him for advice.

It has been a rewarding journey for Zugschwert, all about building relationships with people he trusts who encourage him to have faith in himself and make good decisions. “My mentors know they can’t tell me what to do—that would not work,” he said. But listening and reflecting and asking questions is what helps, and by sharing his ideas in a book, Zugschwert hopes others will benefit as well.