So, you want to become a Board member? Here’s the bottom line.
If you do it well, being a Board member will be more work than you anticipated; more responsibility than you may have understood; a bit more frustrating than you expected; and a rewarding joy and a privilege.
Board service is a real job — a serious commitment. Your passion for the organization must be greater than just wanting the title of Board member. Passion is the #1 ingredient when organizations are inviting people to know and do more for the enterprise.
Know exactly what you are coming for. Don’t join a Board because you want to feel powerful. You can be powerful somewhere else. This the wrong place.
Many organizations look to expand and diversify their Boards in order to bring in more and different perspectives to support their businesses. This creates opportunities for some people who may not have been thought eligible for such a seat.
A job title is often an entry point to being considered as a Board member. But it is – and should be – more a matter of the qualities and experiences you bring to the table. This should include a mental transition to awareness of your responsibilities, rather than to your new seniority.
If you have decided that participation on a Board is for you, here are some starting points
- Work your network. This is how you will learn about Board opportunities and how companies will learn about you. Build your personal brand as someone who will provide real value and expertise to a company through Board membership.
- Demonstrate financial intelligence. One of the most effective ways to assert leadership is to accept responsibility for P&L or to learn how one group’s costs and revenue relate to the rest of the organization. It’s also important to understand business in general outside your own organization.
- Develop intercultural intelligence. This is more important than ever to the overall health of an organization. It means no group should be a silo. Make sure that you’re participating in initiatives across your company, your industry or even your ecosystem, to stay looped in on current trends. See my article on Intercultural Intelligence.
- Use social intelligence. Talk to people! Talk to people throughout your organization, your ecosystem, but especially those who already serve on the Board. It is about learning from others.
Think about what kind of Board member you would be. There are a few different archetypes of Board member styles. You are likely to come up against at least one or more of the following types.
The Enforcer: This person is the stickler for the rules, making sure the organization is complying with rules and regulations while trying to build strategy and increase revenue.
The Data Wrangler: there’s usually at least one of these on any given Board, and in today’s data-driven workplace, this person fulfills an essential role. Focusing on KPIs, metrics, performance, and predictive analytics can help guide organizational strategy.
The Legacy Builder: this Board member focuses on the long term, how organizational decisions and strategy lay the groundwork for the company’s future, beyond current concerns. This requires balancing immediate operational and market needs with investing in the future.
The Big Picture Assembler: this is the person who sees what information, data, and feedback are coming in from different parts of the organization, and then looks at it holistically to see how the company is doing in the grander ecosystem or sector.
The Diplomat: this is the person who tries to balance the voices and needs of all the different members, making sure that each team or representative gets heard.
There are others. If you are on more than one Board, chances are you’ll meet them all
Target your favorite companies and think above all about how you can help them; your focus is on their need, not yours. Build your ecosystem credibility. If you have it, your voice will be even more powerful from Day 1.
Don’t forget that your authenticity is always checked. If you want to be up front and say what you hope to get out of the experience, go ahead. But make sure you are being honest.
And then, take risks. Train yourself, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Ask sharp questions, and openly debate new ideas. Don’t shy away from uncomfortable discussions. Be humble and grateful for support and never apologize for who you are.
Have passion, open doors. And become the Board member they were hoping for!