Establish Your Board Worthy Skills
We’ve been discussing board service in the space for the past few weeks and it seems to be a very timely subject with a lot of interest. In our last article we talked about figuring out where you might best fit into a corporate board, given your skills, interest and experience.
Now that you’ve zeroed in on the size and type of board you’ll target and knowing what strengths you’ll offer them, the next step is to polish those skills. As my mom always said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” So be patient with yourself. Things will work out.
The sooner you begin preparing for a corporate directorship, the better. And to help you begin to prepare, here are some early actions to consider for the purpose of fine-tuning your skills.
Seek out for-profit private board experience. “Although any board experience is beneficial, corporations are likely to value for-profit board experience over a directorship at a nonprofit,” says Steve Mader, managing director chairman at recruiter Korn/Ferry International. Find a small company or start-up and approach it about serving on its board. Be upfront with these firms about their stepping-stone appeal. And if five years is your limit, don’t sign up for something that could last a decade, Mader advises. “You want to think short term, and you want to do it in good conscience.”
Consider not-for-profit opportunities. To take the contrarian position to the above point, nonprofit boards can be a valuable launching pad for corporate board service. Perhaps the most worthy nonprofit credential is a seat with fiduciary responsibility. That means joining a board of trustees, for example, rather than an advisory board. Nonprofits, particularly large ones, allow you to work closely with high ranking corporate and community leaders. In addition, landing a seat that enables you to closely support the nonprofit CEO on board governance matters can be very valuable.
Plan strategically for a corporate board seat. When Australian Anne Ward left twenty-five years of private practice as a commercial lawyer to move to a senior executive role in a major bank, she was making a conscious move toward a future public company board career. She had extensive board experience in the not-for-profit sector, particularly in statutory matters, which she gained while working in her full-time day job as a lawyer. But she took note when sitting public company directors advised her that it would be helpful for her to have senior executive experience when she looked for directorships on public boards. That sage advice paid off. She currently holds directorships at Australian corporations Zoos Victoria, Colonial First State, and Flexigroup Limited.
Continually sharpen your subject matter expertise. Board seat competition is fierce. You’ll need to be perceived as one of the best in your skill-set niche. Involvement and presentation at your industry’s annual conferences, deep self-study of industry advancements, combined with writing white papers, book chapters, or books as well as searching out industry leaders as mentors are a few of the ways to begin now to establish yourself as a true expert in your field.
Strive for the executive suite. Showing senior executive experience on your resume greatly raises your probability for a corporate board seat. The Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Tri-Cities Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors recently sponsored a program for which I moderated a panel called “Charting My Course from the Executive Suite to the Board Seat.” Each panelist’s story had a common denominator: Years, even decades, of doing stellar work every day (and making sure they got credit for it), and a willingness to stretch and grow their management and leadership skills were critical to being tapped for the executive suite.
This sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? But remember the famous words of team manager Jimmy Dugan (played superbly by Tom Hanks) in the popular movie A League of Their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”