Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Joining a Board

We live life forward, and understand it in reverse.

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we did it the other way around?

As a board member you will experience things that you would never have considered prior to joining a board. As such, you will learn tough lessons and learn more about yourself than ever before. This is not a bad thing. All experiences are moments of growth and learning.

I am sharing five things that I have experienced as a board member that I wish I knew before I started my board career. They would have made the journey a little easier; however, I’m certainly grateful for the growth opportunities!

1. I will get intimidated by my fellow board members

… but will quickly realise that qualifications, recognitions, and certain post-nominals don’t make someone a good board member.

Don’t let yourself feel that you have nothing or less to offer simply because you don’t have a particular qualification or set of post-nominals following your name. The vast majority of these ‘measurements’ have no bearing on someone’s ability to be a company director; nor does the absence of these measurements mean that you can’t be a great company director.

2. I will feel unsure of what to do next

… but I will learn to – where appropriate – rely on my fellow board members to rise to their strengths when needed.

This is the strength and beauty of having a well-rounded and balanced board. The times when you feel that you have nothing to contribute are the times that allow other board members to step up and into their unique talents.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to know everything.

3. I will screw up

… but it won’t be the end of the world.

Everyone makes mistakes; even directors. Thankfully, most mistakes are small and largely inconsequential. Misspeaking, losing my composure, not preparing enough for a meeting, swearing, and being distracted in a meeting are just some of the screw-ups I’ve personally made as a board member.

They are uncomfortable to admit, but they are fantastic learning moments!

4. A good, strong Chair makes all of the difference

Make a point to interview the board Chair extensively about their leadership style, the board culture, and the performance of the board / other board members. Having a strong leader on a board is absolutely paramount to having a successful board that adds value to the organisation.

5. I will have to make decisions that have serious consequences on peoples’ lives

Thankfully I can count on one hand the instances when I have had to make these types of decisions.

Although you never want to have to make such drastic decisions; after a decade on boards, I’m doing OK.

When these instances came up, I was certain of my decision, yet I was filled with doubt. I had no way of predicting how the future would unfold.

You have to do what you think is best given the information and circumstances at the time. That’s all anyone can do. And that’s all anyone can expect of you.


“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”

― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The experiences you have throughout your board career enable you to continue to grow and develop into a strong, well-rounded board member.

I hope some of my experiences help you to go into your board career with eyes that are open a little wider and a greater awareness of where some of the greatest lessons will come from.

Share in the comments below: what did you wish you knew before joining a board?

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May 15, 2018

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Get on Board delivers education and development courses that are open to individuals from all professional backgrounds and all types of industries (public, private, NFP, sporting organisations and clubs, etc.). Get on Board focuses on aspiring directors – those people looking to join a board in the near future – and on new directors – those who are currently in their first to fifth year of sitting on a board. Everything that we do is geared towards developing the corporate governance skills, and the business, strategic and financial acumen of new and aspiring company directors.


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