Board service is not for everyone but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider opportunities and put yourself “out there” for a board seat. But you do need to carefully consider whether the opportunity represents a good fit with your experience, interests, capabilities and availability.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO OFFER?
Think hard about what aspects of your background, knowledge and skills are likely to prove valuable. Revise your resume and develop a board bio to make it more relevant to the work of the board. What contributions have you made to strategy development and projects that have crossed functional and divisional/regional boundaries?
HOW WILL I FIND THE RIGHT BOARD?
Finding the right board takes time. Don’t be surprised if you go to many interviews before you find a board that is both a good fit for you and wants you to join. This is perfectly normal. Due diligence is vital so don’t overlook it because you are eager to join the board.
HOW MUCH DUE DILIGENCE SHOULD I DO?
Select the right board with great care and be rigorous in your due diligence. Your current executive position may limit you to only one outside board membership, so the choice is extremely important and worth the time it takes ensure the right decision. Once you accept a directorship, plan to serve on for six years.
WHAT IS THE TIME COMMITMENT?
One of the pitfalls of becoming a director is underestimating the amount of time it takes to understand the business and get up to speed. It is not just a question of preparing thoroughly for meetings (reading the board papers/book is essential) but making time early on for the induction program and associated site visits and meetings with management. Think carefully about re-prioritizing your current executive responsibilities in order to leave enough time for your role as an outside director.
DO I HAVE THE TIME?
To do a job well and with the appropriate thoroughness is a significant commitment. Understanding the levers of the business can take some time. It is helpful if your current employer is also on a board and helpful in determining that you can manage your own time commitments in such a way that you can attend board meetings without diminishing your value in your current executive role. Ask for the board meeting dates for the next three years.
CAN I REALLY CONTRIBUTE?
Be clear about why the board is interested in you and how your presence and experience complement the existing team of directors. Identify where you can deliver unique and differentiated value and try to demonstrate that quickly. But understand, the first year will involve a steep learning curve as you gain a thorough understanding of the business model. Keep in mind that there is always more to a business than meets the eye. A good chairperson and CEO will give you the time to learn the ropes, but you must be absolutely committed to this.
WILL I LEARN?
How much you learn will have a great deal to do with the intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness that you bring to the role. Your choice of board should be determined not only by how much you have to offer, but also by how much you can learn. Having a mentor on the board is highly recommended, particularly in the first year. He/she can help prepare you for what happens at board meetings and debrief with you in the week or two following the meeting.
WILL IT BE FUN?
That will depend on your clear sense of purpose about your role, the cohesion and unity of the board, and the chairperson’s leadership style. Directors who choose their boards wisely, experience a cultural fit and strive to make a positive contribution are the ones who derive the greatest enjoyment from their roles.
DOES MY EMPLOYER FULLY SUPPORT MY OUTSIDE DIRECTORSHIP?
You may find it difficult at first to convince your employer that it is a good idea to join an outside board if there is no precedent. That is why it is helpful if your employer also serves on a board. If you think you are ready and enthusiastic for the task, work on selling the benefits. Your company will derive the greatest benefit if this is seen not just as a way to enhance your own development, but also as an opportunity to apply what you learn as an outside director to your current executive role. Once you have secured a directorship, make a point of sitting down with your CEO at least once a year to describe what you have learned and how you are incorporating this into your work for the benefit of the company
SHOULD I EXPECT A BOARD INDUCTION AND TRAINING?
Prior to joining your first board, it is a good idea to participate in one of the many new director training programs run by board advisory companies and talk to other directors who have recently joined a board for the first time. Having accepted a directorship, you should expect to go through an induction process, which will involve learning more about the business and its products, meeting the senior management team and going on selective site visits. The company secretary usually oversees this induction; don’t be afraid to ask for the process to be tailored to your needs if you want to explore certain areas of the business in greater depth.
And at the end of the day, what does your gut tell you? If you want that board seat so badly that you ignore that “warning” in your stomach that tells you their ethics are not your ethics…..SO, GO WITH YOUR GUT!
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