Insights March 2017
Open Letters

What I Learned from my Personal Board of Directors

Arlinda Ruco


This letter is part of series of Open Letters from Canadian leaders in Healthcare. To see the complete series please click here 

Several years ago, I came across the work of Jim Collins, a published author and teacher on leadership and management. His concept of a personal Board of Directors resonated with me as I thought about how I could apply it to my personal leadership journey. Simply put, Collins defines this as an informal group of “seven people you deeply respect and would not want to let down” (Collins, 1996). This group of people then serves as a mechanism to leverage a wealth of wisdom, experience and advice that can help you navigate difficult situations or ethical dilemmas in your professional and personal life.

Healthcare is a fascinating field to work in, particularly because of its interprofessional and multidisciplinary nature. It is not uncommon to work alongside people who possess an entirely different skill set from you. Using this to my advantage, I built my Board of Directors with a diverse group of leaders whose opinions I valued and could turn to for advice, both professional and personal. These leaders worked in research, community home care, quality and patient safety, human resources, organizational development, IT and the front line. For those that I did not already have a relationship with, I made the effort to officially introduce myself. For others who I already knew, I made it a point to be in their presence every so often if our paths did not cross naturally. Discussions I had with my Board varied from career advice, management and leadership theory, the real estate market, and love in a time of technology among other things. It was the internal discussion and self-reflection that they lit in me that propelled me forward to make my next career move and life transition.

Being in the presence of these amazing leaders and colleagues, I made it a point to carefully observe their leadership styles. In my interactions with them, I came up with a list of three take-a-ways for any young emerging leader to adopt in order to propel their professional and personal development forward:

  1. Never underestimate the power of coffee: You would be surprised how many people are willing to give up 30 minutes of their time with the promise of a free cup of java (or tea). This was one of the strategies I used to secure the time of those who I did not formally know. Offering to buy someone coffee is a great strategy for building new relationships and getting to know people outside of their work titles. You might be surprised at what you end up learning about people in the process and how valuable these interactions can be to your own development. Every time you sit down with someone new for a cup of coffee, ask them who else they would recommend you meet with. This can continue to build your professional network and is a great way to recruit people for your Board of Directors.
  2. Don’t leave without a book recommendation: Although the time and discussions had with each member of my Board were instrumental to my development and growth, I didn’t want my learning to stop there. One of the most valuable things I did was to ask these leaders for some of their top book recommendations. I then got my hands on copies of these books and read them one by one. Not all of the books that were recommended resonated with me, but they all made me question, think and reflect on my own core values and beliefs. In addition, the great thing about book recommendations is that you can pay them forward and share them with other young(er) leaders who may reach out to you.
  3. Never turn down the opportunity to get out of your office: One of the best observations I made in my personal Board of Directors was that these leaders rarely turned down the opportunity to get out of their office, in fact they welcomed it. This may have taken them some additional time to coordinate or for travel, but it afforded them a deeper understanding and appreciation for the work of others. In addition, it was experiences like these that continued to fuel their own creativity and inspired their out of the box thinking.

It has been almost a year and a half since I began my personal Board of Directors journey, and my return on investment has been unparalleled. For years I had contemplated the idea of pursuing a PhD but had always felt like it was never the right time or moment to dive in. The energy, confidence and clarity that I was able to harness from each of the interactions and relationships I built has given me the inspiration to dive in headfirst.

About the Author(s)

Arlinda Ruco, MPH - Practice-Based Research and Innovation, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Email:


Thank you to the amazing and inspiring women (Kathryn Nichol, Linda Rabeneck, Shamena Maharaj, Beth O’Leary, Ena Vukatana, Narissa Sawh, Thao Sindall, Haesun Moon) who have offered their time, insights, friendship and entertained many of my ideas and discussions.  Your wisdom has continued to fuel the leader in me. 


Collins, J. Looking Out for Number One. (1996). Available from:



Lisa Holloway wrote:

Posted 2017/04/18 at 02:26 PM EDT

Great article! Love the idea of a personal board of directors.


Nicole Pendleton wrote:

Posted 2018/11/01 at 01:53 PM EDT

As a newcomer to the medical world, I love this strategy as a way to build a network and collaborate with others. Thank you!


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