It’s a common scene many families across this country see play out at this time of year: Young men and women head off to college in pursuit of new experiences, personal growth, and a course of study that will hopefully, upon graduation, produce fruitful professional opportunities. Often lost in the shuffle of the collegiate journey are those who helped mold and mentor these future entrepreneurs and workplace linchpins: parents, relatives, teachers and counselors, coaches, clergy members, and countless others. Think of them as the college student’s personal board of directors, a network of advisers and influencers. They work behind the scenes, helping to shape the student’s values and offer a vision of the future. Maybe you were one of those college-bound kids at one time. Yes, you, the person now standing at the front of the room as an executive and wondering just how to go about it. Guess what? You still need that board of directors in your life, even if the professional version will look a little different than your personal one. What Should a Board of Directors Look Like? Chances are high that as a startup, your company’s not quite ready to join the S&P 500. However, you need some assistance in developing a long-term vision for your company to help it ascend to the heights you believe it can reach. You likely don’t have the experience or knowledge to go it alone (and that’s OK!), so this is where a solid board of directors’ counsel can be invaluable. Just like your personal support group did all those years leading up to your college education, an experienced board can have your company’s short- and long-term best interests at heart. This is a seasoned unit of leaders, tasked with high-level decision-making and fiduciary responsibility to your company. The board of directors pushes a startup owner or founder to consistently nurture and foster his company’s big picture. If the board of directors is assembled properly, everyone benefits from the arrangement. You, the founder, will better your business’s chances of succeeding; the company itself will mature and progress, thanks to the experience at its disposal; and board members will get a financial reward for their time. How to Get Everyone on the Same Page You know the reasons a board — much like a personal support circle — can look out for your present and future endeavors. The question now is how a startup founder should go about building this team. Parents, teachers, and coaches are bound emotionally and morally to keep you on the straight and narrow, while a board member’s only obligation is to the bottom line. Here are a few simple approaches founders can utilize to make sure board member goals are aligned with company objectives: #1. Know the players. Go below the surface in your vetting process and ask several questions to select the best candidates. Determine whether the prospective members fit within your company, particularly in terms of culture. Just as important, do they mesh with you, the founder? Do they have prior experience on other boards, and can they provide references? Obviously, it would be great if you could test out a potential member on a trial basis, but that’s often not possible. The more you can dig into candidates’ prior experience and find out about them personally, the better off you will be. #2. Leverage your network. Remember how important networking is? Often, startup owners are so focused on getting their businesses up and running that they lose sight of available resources that can help. One of the more lasting marks a top-notch board leaves on your startup is the bevy of networking possibilities that materialize from it. You gain access to relationships you would’ve never had otherwise and to avenues which help you build your business in ways you’d never before imagined. How valuable a tool is networking, especially of the face-to-face variety? According to a survey conducted by Great Business Schools and republished by Virgin, 95 percent of respondents deemed face-to-face meetings essential to long-term business relationships, while 85 percent said in-person encounters and conferences yield stronger, more meaningful business relationships. Pick from your own inner circle, too. Your investors, advisers, service providers, friends, and partners can suggest multiple candidates to serve on your board — use them. The more recommendations you receive, the better your chances will be of finding the right person to add to the mix. #3. Weed out the “yes” people. In addition to the expanded network it provides, an effective board influences the larger strategy and vision of your company. The properly functioning board expects upper management in your company — hint: that’s probably you — to disseminate these goals to the rank-and-file members as well. That being said, you don’t want board members who agree with everything you say. You sometimes need to swallow your pride and be willing to accept a difference of opinion because others may have knowledge, perspective, and vision that you don’t possess. Remember how Mom and Dad always seemed to know what was best for you, even if you didn’t realize it until years later? Being challenged by others only pushes you to improve yourself, your product, and your business. Be open and flexible to dissenting viewpoints. Be careful, though: If you don’t have voting control of your board of directors, you could find yourself pushed out of your job in favor of someone the board finds more willing to execute its strategy — kind of like your parents telling you to go find another place to live if you don’t like their household rules. It’s important to have a board of directors that provides experienced leadership and has the best interests of your company in mind. Your company’s long-term success just may depend on it. Have you assembled a board of directors for your startup? If so, what are some of the advantages that your board has brought to your company? If not, what’s stopped you from doing so? Comment below and let us know. Image: empty boardroom or meeting room.