The companies that I interact with are typically experiencing huge shifts in customer expectations and customer engagement facilitated by technology. Their boardrooms and investors are therefore starting to appreciate the value of diverse director skills and perspectives to assist in addressing these business model shifts. Boards are looking at directors with the ability to provide not only insight but also foresight to a strategy discussion. Changing board composition also leads to exploring different networks to fill the few open positions.
First-time directors can benefit from expanding their networks and should be able to articulate concisely what value they can bring to a board beyond traditional functional and industry skills. Identifying boards and their nominating and governance chairs that might benefit from a specific skill set enables a more targeted approach to networking. Being proactive earlier in a career to develop gaps in skill sets positions a younger director for a first-time board seat. Being highly visible to the director community and speaking on topics that highlight a highly sought after skill set like strategy, international experience, and digital or cybersecurity skills has also seen proven results.
Although there are many elements of building an effective board brand, these four pointers will start you on the path to your first board. Good luck!
Manage your expectations. Whether it’s a non-profit, quasi-government, private or public company board, expect to spend between 100 to 300 hours per year as an engaged board member. Board work is not glamorous nor a source of wealth. Boards will consider whether you will reach age or term limits over the next decade when assessing your candidacy. Depending on the type of board you’re searching for, it could take you up to five years to land your first as more boomers and younger generations are pursuing board opportunities. Be prepared for rejection and unanswered questions. “Why not me?”
Learn your craft. What do directors do? What don’t they do? How do they do it? What are best practices? What are the risks involved with board service?
Build your network. Highly placed sponsors and contacts are critically important. Approximately 70% of board opportunities are sourced through personal contacts. Put yourself in the right environment to maximize board connection opportunities wherever you are.
Know your value. What skills and attributes do you bring to the boardroom? How you contribute is equally as important as what you contribute. Understand what others think and feel about how you engage with people at different levels of an organization, how you process information and how you perform in difficult circumstances. This information will help you position yourself for board opportunities.
It’s important to make an impact as an effective director from your first day in the boardroom. Based upon my experiences as a director, I would offer the following advice:
An effective board comprises a group of people with a diverse set of skills and experiences. Before joining a board, it is important to have a clear understanding of how you will add value to that board. In order to continue to bring that value to the board, and therefore to the company, directors need to keep current on the industry and on their own expertise. Directors need to understand the significant governance challenges and trends impacting the environment. If you are working in your area of expertise, it is easier to stay current. If you are no longer working, attend industry seminars and read as much as possible.
Additionally, although you are likely very knowledgeable in many areas, a board focuses on all strategic issues faced by a company. It is important to listen to management and other board members on issues where you are not an expert. Directors need to question and challenge issues and recommendations on all topics, even those where they do not have expertise. Boards are most effective when they use the power of the group to challenge issues and then support management.