By Paul Dubal, Governance Coach
It is common knowledge that boards have a range of accountabilities and potential liabilities that were almost inconceivable thirty years ago. The average non-executive director (NED) of a public company board will spend up to 40 days per year on board meetings and related duties. It is a significant commitment and one that cannot be taken lightly. Board service is simultaneously challenging, stimulating and rewarding and there is rarely a shortage of prospective candidates.
The first question I ask is “Why do you want to join a Board?” The answers are often long and varied, and rarely about money though some board roles are well compensated. Over time, I have categorized the insights shared with me into the following five areas:
1. To Support Initiatives That Resonate With Me: Passion, purpose and meaning motivate the efforts and influence the decisions undertaken by most individuals. Focusing on those motivators coupled with your own unique value proposition, greatly impacts your board journey destination mapping. The board role journey will vary from individual-to-individual. All destinations trigger a different and unique journey and it is critical to have a destination or target in mind – one that resonates with YOU. Whether your destination is by organizational type or industry sector, whether profit or not, or whether private or public – a destination that has meaning for you is essential. At the beginning of a board journey, many individuals – motivated to serve their community or reflecting a personal passion for a project or organization – will join a volunteer board. It is a worthwhile first step for many individuals. Small private or volunteer boards offer new director experiences as well as opportunities to lend your specific knowledge, expertise and creativity to the organization in a way that can make a tangible difference. Others, motivated to ‘give-back’ or ‘influence’ through a future board role, set their sights on a specific sector (Technology, Environmental or Finance for example) that often provided the bedrock for career achievements. Yet others seek new board role experiences in unknown or emerging sectors where they can lend valued expertise and insights. Directors I work with indicate that each board experience offers a uniquely rewarding and enriching experience in its own right but they all begin with reflecting on whether the initiative resonates with them.
2. Professional and personal development: A board role offers experience, knowledge and skills and provides exposure to situations and environments that will inevitably stretch not only your intellectual and technical capabilities, but expand your leadership and social reach as well. Being a director means paying attention. You are constantly learning and evolving with others through problem solving and developing a mindset beyond an operational focus you may be more familiar with. Being a director means adopting a strategic mindset and elevating your focus on the unique aspects of the organization or industry thus expanding your knowledge and leadership development in the process as well as your network.
3. Strengthen your personal brand: We all possess a personal brand – how we present ourselves and how we are perceived by others constitutes our personal brand. Joining a board adds gravitas to your personal brand. A board role shows others that you are a credible front-runner in your field and are well equipped to impact the future of an organization or industry. It also shows that you are able to handle complicated issues and cooperate with others in decision-making. Board experience builds your prestige with recruiters and future business partners or employers and ultimately shapes your personal brand.
4. Promoting Change From Within: In some cases, individuals aspire to join the board of an industry or organization with whom they are affiliated through work. I have worked with many executives of large banks and conglomerates who aspire to join a board of one of the organization’s many subsidiaries. Joining a board grants us power to initiate changes from within and to provide influence over the strategy of the organization or industry. These types of roles provide not only opportunities to introduce efficiencies, to innovate and to influence the corporate culture but to also gain top-down recognition and peer recognition, both formally and informally from your organization or industry.
5. Gain Insights in Your Current Work: As a board director, you are often exposed to new corporate structures, cultures and strategies. Importantly, other board members are often from industries and roles distinct from your own and provide insights and creative approaches to issues and challenges in a different and compelling manner. Observing these new ways of operating and approaching situations can provide useful intelligence and generate creative ideas that you can apply to other roles. I am a great advocate of listening to others and understanding how they interact, engage, debate and find innovative solutions. Boardroom experiences can provide excellent and priceless insights as well as leadership lessons.
While many of these reasons may resonate with you, they are at risk of derailment, particularly for women who serve on boards. Here are just a few comments provided by individuals I have worked with who became disillusioned with board service:
“The personalities were so strong and dominant I felt they were dismissive of my comments. I could sense their unspoken question, why is she on the board? I felt the knowledge and expertise I had to offer stagnating. I often kept quiet and resented myself afterwards”
“I joined a board that was beholden to management. We had a weak chair, we rarely challenged proposals and they often went through with little real debate. I went through the papers meticulously before the meetings but for several of my colleagues, the board meeting was the first time they opened the board pack. In the end I suffered burnout because I lost all enthusiasm for serving on the board.”
It is important to join a board with eyes wide open and to be aware of the pitfalls. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Working with The Governance Boutique will ensure that your aspirations to become a director are supported from the very start, not just helping you to identify your reasons for joining a board, but promoting and positioning yourself to find the right board; and when you find that coveted board position, we will ensure that you are adequately prepared with the right mindset, self-awareness and non-technical attributes that will position you to impact and influence and fulfill your aspirations for joining a board.