Networking rules for securing a board seat
Networking is more than a fleeting conversation. It’s a series of interactions. These connections are vital to helping you search out board opportunities. Moreover, when companies hone in on one or two candidates, they’ll do reference checks among people they know and trust. As a result, it’s critical to continuously expand and enrich your network and get to know people who can vouch for you.
Fish Where the Fish Are: Landing a board seat is both a numbers game and a contacts game. Network in organizations that have members who are corporate board directors and board seat influencers. But don’t stop there! Let your bank, law, public accounting, and consulting firm contacts know of your interest in being on a board and the value you would bring. If you are involved in chari- ties, nonprofit organi- zations, or cultural or- ganizations, those can also be great sources of high-level contacts.
Think Function, Not Just Title: Next time you sit at an event table and find an administrative assistant seated next to you, rejoice. This person knows how to make things happen. She (sometimes it’s a he) knows processes and people within her company that her CEO is likely clueless about. Fate has likely dealt you a great card here. Make the connection, explore her interests, and if your instincts say so, nurture the unique new friendship.
Ask a Barbara Walters Warm-Up
Question: One of the best at the art of conversation is Barbara Walters. The depth and breadth of her interviews spanning five decades is legendary. A “get to know you” ques- tion she recommends is simply, “What was your first job?” Barbara says it’s an easy question for anyone to answer, and the “Tell me more about that” follow-up query al- ways brings interesting insights to the surface.
Say “Yes” Thoughtfully, Perform Fully: If a contact asks you for a favor, think carefully before saying “yes.” By saying yes, you are obligating your time and efforts to deliver. You may need to state some caveats on exactly what you can deliver. Remember, your word is your bond.
As you become better networked, opportunities will come your way for which you know you are not the best choice. Use these times to show your team player chops. Offer up names that are better fits and offer to make the connections. I practice this with my consulting colleagues. They always appreciate it and more than return the favor.
Your network is comprised of a lot of mini-networks among whom word travels fast and furious. Your good name and reputation are priceless. Every yes (and no) is a “handle with care” situation.
Ask Cautiously: When a need sur- faces that requires a favor from a con- tact in your network, proceed with care. Frame your ask in a way that honors your contact and his or her insight and advice. This is particular- ly important in asking for help on get- ting seated on a corporate board. The less tactful approach is to ask directly: “Do you know any corporate boards seeking new directors?” This approach feels harsh since it seems to put your contact directly on the spot.
A better tact is to take “the ask” in a different direction. Bring your re- search on board fit to the conversa- tion. It shows you’ve done your re- search. Share which business sectors you believe are suitable and the pos- sible boards in that sector that may prize your skill sets. Conclude with a soft close, such as “This is the type of company I think I could add value to. Do you think I’m on the right track?” After they offer their feedback, say: “Thank you for that insight. Please keep me in mind.”
Now, if your contact offers to reach out on your behalf to a specific board, great! But by not asking directly, and instead asking for guidance and ad- vice, you’ve gingerly planted the seed about your interest in board service. And you’ve allowed the individual to remain comfortable and shown that you value his or her advice.