Wise counsel

A businesswoman signing a contract - business concept

Exodus 37; John 16; Proverbs 13; Ephesians 6

“Wisdom is perhaps the greatest gift one generation can give to the other”.  Jim Collins, a popular author and teacher, feels this is perhaps the best advice he’s received from his personal board of directors over the years. In the mid-1990’s, Collins introduced the concept of a personal board of directors to business leaders.  The notion of assembling a multi-disciplinary group that could provide feedback and advise on anything from career choices to helping overcome workplace challenges, was a fresh alternative to traditional one on one mentoring relationships.  This concept has an inward focus – how connecting with others can truly make you better, rather than just helping you get to the next level by linking with a leader on his/her way up the ladder.  An idea that started as advice to Collins’ business students has been useful to leaders in more than just business settings for almost 20 years.

Have you ever employed this approach? Thanks to a wise mentor, I have.  The last time I interviewed for a job, I intentionally spent time connecting with six leaders who had different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences.  Their guidance was instrumental in helping me think through what I wanted from the position, what I capabilities I brought to the job, whether I was really a fit for it, and what additional information I wanted to gain from the hiring leader during the interview.  I walked in to that interview better prepared than I had ever been.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you this experience had a fairytale ending.  I didn’t get the job.  The process I used to prepare for it, however, was what helped me quickly work through the initial disappointment and, eventually, realize I am much better off because I didn’t get that job.

As I read and reflected on Proverbs 13 this week, I see the concept of a personal board of directors rooted in the wisdom of Solomon. Guidance for seeking knowledge, instruction and wise counsel is the heart of verses 13-20.  Solomon’s direction applies to business, it applies to leadership, but it also applies to the everyday lives of Christ followers.

13Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,

but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.  

14The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life

that one may turn away from the snares of death.  

15Good sense wins favor,

but the way of the treacherous is their ruin.  

16In everything the prudent acts with knowledge,

but a fool flaunts his folly.

17A wicked messenger falls into trouble,

but a faithful envoy brings healing.

18Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction,

but whoever heeds reproof is honored.

19A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul,

but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.  

20Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,

but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

The scripture begins by affirming that the Bible, the inspired Word of God, is a Christ follower’s guidepost (verse 13). It goes on to describe the goodness of seeking out wise counsel and conversely describes the consequences of relying on advice of the wicked, of fools or relying on yourself alone.  This is where I see the concept of a personal board of directors begin to show up.

  • Verse 14 talks about the teaching of the wise
  • Verse 15 talks about using good sense
  • Verse 16 suggests pursuit of knowledge is prudent
  • Verse 18 warns of the harsh consequences that come from ignoring instruction
  • Verse 19 began to hit home when I thought about times in my own life that my desire for something clouded my judgment

I haven’t always used a personal board of directors.  Rather, I can think of occasions I wanted something so bad that the only people I asked for advice were my closest friends, people I knew thought like me, and those I knew would give me the answer I wanted to hear.  (A few of these situations didn’t have fairytale endings either.)  Verse 20 closes the passage by instructing us to choose advisors wisely for this very reason.  Experience tells us the more time people spend together, the more they become alike.  Should you be hanging around with people who make you better or people who make you worse?  Walk with the wise and, over time, their influence will help you become wiser.  Walk with fools and, over time, you will make poor choices.

Selecting the right people is imperative to finding success with a personal board of directors. In order to bring value, this group has to be diverse.  Not only does it have to include people outside your circle of friends and people who think like you, it also needs to include people with points of view and experiences different from each other.  A well-rounded team.  These people must also have the courage to give difficult feedback that will help you grow and develop, though sometimes it is painful and not easily received.

Who’s on Your Personal Board of Directors?, by Carolyn Taketa (Christianity Today 2014) provides some very relevant guidance on selecting the right people, especially as it relates to the lives of Christ followers.  Her central message is that your board should be “people that consistently motivate you to become the person God has created you to be”.  She then goes on to describe diverse roles that may be valuable for helping you grow and develop:

  • Mentor – a wise counselor
  • Sponsor – someone who can, and is willing, to open doors for you
  • Spiritual advisor – someone who helps identify and understand God’s work in your life
  • Partners in ministry – those who help you with ideas and strategies for your area of ministry
  • Honest encourager – someone who helps find clarity in difficult situations
  • Prayer warrior – someone who has the gift of intercessory prayer
  • Others with specific expertise – experts who help provide guidance in certain areas, for example a financial planner, therapist, personal trainer, etc.

Assembling a personal board of directors isn’t easy. Identifying the right people and investing in the relationships takes time.  It also requires vulnerability, willingness to accept the risk of hearing things you don’t want to hear, and readiness for some level of disappointment.  Considering the wise counsel of Solomon in Proverbs, is there a better way?

Proverbs 1:7, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 12:15, The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 15:22, Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 19:20, Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Proverbs 24:6, By wise guidance you will wage war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.