You prepare for the important things in life…getting your first Board Seat is one of them!
Most people have preparing for the beginning of their careers down pat. They studied hard for the SATs, visited a bunch of college campuses, and agonized over applying to the right University.
As employee’s they carefully selected each company they worked for, each role they applied for and all along the way they diligently prepared for each presentation, project and assignment that led to the promotions that got them to where they are today.
If you are a successful executive, chances are pretty good that it’s because your years of preparation and hard work have paid off. Now as you look to the future, you’re envisioning yourself as a member of a Board of Directors.
But this path is a lot less traveled and a lot less defined. Unlike the other plans which were carefully laid out for you, you’re not sure how or where to begin your journey to the board and rightly so because there are a lot fewer people who go down this path.
One thing is for sure; you need to prepare for this next step in your career with the vigor that you did in the beginning and along the way.
Here’s 5 Essential Steps in Preparing for your first Board Seat.
1. START EARLY.
If a board seat is you goal, the earlier in your career you begin to prepare, the better. Many of the attributes that significantly contribute to gaining your first board seat are ones that are acquired over time and there is just no getting around that! Getting on your first board will require a combination of passion, diligence, knowledge, network and positioning. These 5 attributes will be discussed in detail in Part 2 of this article, but you can see that each one requires skills and relationships that are formed over time. Starting early in your career is important for a number of reasons. First, it allows you to create a goal of one day serving on a board which gets you thinking about what it will actually take for you to achieve your goal. Second, this thought process will give you opportunities to put together a formal roadmap of how to get where you want to be from where you are today. Finally, it provides an opportunity for you to course correct early enough to gain skills, knowledge and relationships that will be essential in gaining your first board seat.
It’s essential to learn about corporate boards and how they operate. Why is that important? Getting your first seat on a board is a highly competitive task. The very first step in preparing yourself for a board seat is actually understanding what it is that boards do and how they do it. Non-Profit, Corporate and Start-up or Private Boards have similarities in terms of a board members responsibilities and duties, but they also have very important differences. Learn all you can about the different types of boards that exist and their governance, regulations, and composition, to determine what scenarios most interest you and fit best with your expertise. Once you know the basics, you may decide that you are interested or best suited for a specific type of board and can create a game plan for you to begin your path to a board seat. By understanding the role and expectation of board members you will be armed with a standard that you can assess your skills against and determine what gaps exist and how to best fill them. This knowledge will also be useful in your efforts to position yourself to be discovered for board service. When you are at a point of preparing your pitch or for your first board interview, understanding the inner workings of a board will give you an edge in two ways. First it will enable you to speak intelligently about how your particular skills and insights will benefit specific committees and secondly it will enable you to frame and present your unique value proposition in a way that aligns with specific roles and responsibilities that the board is seeking. Being educated and prepared is a tremendous competitive edge.
3. KNOW YOUR BRAND.
Your personal brand is ultimately what will open doors that lead to your first board seat. Your brand in essence; is what people say about you when you are not in the room. In speaking with executive search directors that specialize in board placements, the resounding answer to how to be discovered for your first board seat, is to be the best you can at what you do and have a brand that is strong enough that allows us to find you. Your reputation precedes you, so be intentional on building and strengthening it. Most board seats are acquired through introductions made by your personal network. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that your personal brand is one that folks will feel comfortable referring you to directors in their own networks, who will in turn check you out through their own circle of friends and colleagues. Since your reputation now extends online and it’s where most people will first turn to find out more about you, it’s incredibly important for you to Google yourself and see what you find. Are all of your social media results consistent and positive reflections of you? Are they aligned to the branding goals that you have set for yourself? It’s never too late to rebrand or update your online profile by adding blogs, webinars, conference videos and other content so that it aligns with the image you want to portrait as a potential future board member. It’s up to you to set the on-going tone and the brand of your online persona.
4. CREATE YOUR ROADMAP
The first step in creating your personal roadmap to the boardroom begins with understanding the different types of board structures and the roles and responsibilities associated with them. Armed with this knowledge you can do a bit of soul searching to really determine if board service is something you are willing to commit to and if so what type of board will best suit your goals, your talents and your passions. A board preparedness course can be particularly useful in helping you to both determine which boardroom structure best suits you as well as providing the tools to map out an honest assessment of your skills, networks and gaps in experience so you can customize your personal path forward. Be sure to select a course that also includes tools to identify and articulate your value proposition in terms of your board CV, pitch, online persona and interview preparation as well.
5. GET NOTICED.
Once you have gained an understanding about board structures and inner workings and selected a group of companies that you have researched and are targeting to be invited on the board, it’s time to position yourself to be discovered. Use your network to meet the CEO or board members. Research the board members, discover their interests and attend charity, social, sporting or other events that you may have an opportunity to personally speak with them about your qualifications and desire to join their board. Search your own network to see if anyone can make a personal introduction to a current or past board member. Most importantly be vocal to your own network about informing them that you are actively seeking a board of director position. This is one time that self-promotion is not only ok, it’s absolutely necessary. You now need to actively and purposefully announce your intention to become a board member at every social and business event you attend, because you never know who you’re going to meet or who they may be connected to. It’s a small world and many directors know other directors and other opportunities.
The most important thing you can do if you think board service is in your future, is to begin to prepare for it today. Knowledge is power. Gaining a board seat is competitive and requires intentional actions. Select a board preparedness course that has a robust curriculum, noted contributors, as well as tools, templates and assessments that will guide you to best prepare and position yourself for your first board seat.