Being asked to join a board is a wonderful feeling, and a HUGE ego stroke. It’s also really cool to tell people you’re a director of an organisation. I can understand why it’s the professional ‘IT’ thing to do at the.
I’m not a fan of people joining a board for the sake of flashing around a title. It’s a significant and serious responsibility to take on. That’s why before you take the leap to be a board you should take a moment to critically reflect and ask yourself these five questions.
1. Are my values aligned with the organisation and board?
You will invest a lot of time and energy into your board and organisation; likely on a volunteer basis. It goes without saying that you would want to have your values and passions aligned to the organisation’s cause and/or purpose so that you don’t start resenting your commitment and time investments.
This consideration also extends to the board members. It’s so often the “people stuff” on a board that dictates whether or not it’s highly functioning and effective. Find a way to ensure that the board as a whole has aligned values, and are all pulling in the same direction for a mutual purpose. These include things like respect, trust, honesty, and equal contribution. Having a candid conversation with the Chair and one or two other board members will help you to see what the shared values are and whether they are being actually being practiced.
2. Have I done enough due diligence to make myself feel comfortable?
I’m sure you know that you need to do your due diligence before joining a board. Check in with yourself about how you feel about the information you’ve found: about the organisation (particularly the finances) and about the people around the board table. Are you feeling comfortable or are there some red flags or information gaps that have piqued your spidey senses? Work towards feeling comfortable and confident about the board and organisation – it can save you a lot of heart ache in the long run.
3. Am I getting caught up in the glamour of being asked to join a board or as part of the board recruitment process?
Have you become so excited about being in the running to join a board that you have lost perspective? Closely related to point two above, take note if you’re starting to think that the problems or issues you’re uncovering through your due diligence aren’t that significant, or don’t matter. It’s a clear sign that you’re letting the glamour of “becoming a board member” take away your objectivity. Strip that ego away and listen to what your intuition – and intellect – is telling you.
4. Am I going to learn and grow from the experience and from my fellow board members?
This is part consideration of the director role, part consideration of the board members, and part consideration of the issues facing the organisation. Of course you’ll ask yourself where you can contribute, but you should also look at how you can grow; particularly if you’re volunteering. I don’t see a problem in you receiving a personal return from your time, expertise, and energy investment in the form of professional growth. Take a look at the expertise and backgrounds of the people around the table and at the issues the organisation is facing; assess whether you feel like you could learn and grow from them.
5. Will this be a positive stepping-stone to bigger and better boards?
Take a moment to think strategically about the board you are considering joining – how does it fit in with your larger board career plans? We all have to start our board career somewhere so you might as well choose somewhere that is a logical step towards your grander board plans.
Don’t fall in to the trap of approaching a board position as a ‘tick-the-box’ resume filler. Asking yourself these questions will help you to determine whether you’re joining this board because it’s ‘on purpose’, that you genuinely feel comfortable with what responsibility you’re taking on and, that you have identified where you can help the organisation achieve its goals.