How to be an Effective Board Member

Being informed and up-to-date about what is happening in your organisation is a minimum requirement as a director. However, I believe that there are three other important areas in which you need to stay current and fresh to be an effective board member.

The What

Firstly, your area of expertise. Whether your background is in accounting, legal, marketing, human resources, etc., this set of skills, knowledge, and abilities is generally why you were invited to join a board in the first place. Therefore, it is important for you to stay current with the trends and developments in your expertise area, and communicate these changes to the board and CEO. It is just as good for your professional career as it is for your directorships to keep honing and refining your craft.

Secondly is keeping up-to-date with the always-changing business and governance landscapes. New laws and precedence are being frequently introduced; and impacts to local, national, and international economic drivers occur daily. If you keep informed of the business and governance landscapes you can find yourself pre-empting changing circumstances, leading to effective board governance and organisational performance.

Thirdly, and most importantly, is personal growth and leadership development. As a director you are in one of the most important leadership positions of the organisation. A lot of a director’s time is spent providing guidance, advice, and strategic input to help steer the organisation in the right direction. Having great interpersonal and leadership skills helps you to better communicate your ideas and influence outcomes.

The How

So, how do you stay up to date with ALL of this information? Well, it can be quite overwhelming to start with (side note: this time requirement should also be factored into your due diligence when looking at joining a board – more on that in a future post). However, I have found technology a great friend when trying to absorb so much information.

Here are the ways that I have found work for me in keeping “ahead of the Kardashians”:

Email newsletters. I like to drink my morning coffee and peruse over the previous day’s e-newsletters and pick out the articles that I want to read. I am currently subscribed to

Harvard Business Review (all things business and leadership),

Spin Sucks (practical PR and marketing);

CompliSpace (compliance / corporate governance);

Australian Human Resource Institute HRM Online (human resources and industrial relations); and,

McKinsey & Co. (business strategy).

Flipboard. This is my all time favourite app. I have set my iPad and iPhone up with a range of source and topic feeds based on my areas of interest. There’s a nice mix of marketing, business, economic, world news, corporate governance, and women’s interest channels (ok, that last one is for when I’m “off-duty” – work/life balance is important to me).

I tend to flip through Flipboard a few times a day when I’m in between tasks on my to-do list, if I’m early for a meeting, on ad breaks during my favourite TV show, and over breakfast or lunch if I’ve read all of my selected articles from my e-newsletters.

Twitter. Another great source of articles ‘recommended’ by the people I follow. I have my twitter feed (@GetOnBoardAUS) set up on Flipboard to make staying up-to-date with the twitterverse much easier.

Podcasts. Use your time wisely and listen to podcasts when you are doing tasks that require everything but your full brainpower and ears, like getting ready in the morning before work. Again, I subscribe to a mix of podcasts including Harvard Business Review IdeaCast, Lexicon Valley, and McKinsey’s Inside the Strategy Room podcast. I also recently downloaded the TED app for a good dose of unique topics.

Radio. Yep, the good old-fashioned wireless. When I’m enroute to meetings, the gym, or doing a grocery shop, I like to listen to ABC news radio. Sometimes it’s local (Adelaide), and sometimes it’s national, depending what program is on. Trips around Adelaide are generally short enough that you won’t get stuck with hearing the news cycle more than once.

Formal education. Find a reputable organisation that delivers programs (hint: Boardroom Bootcamp) or short courses in the area of building your corporate governance and/or business acumen skills. These organisations deliver formal director education day-in and day-out and are usually conducted by experienced directors who really know their stuff.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how or where you get your information from, as long as you’re proactively keeping yourself current and fresh. ‘Lifetime learning’ is a good mantra to live by – we can never know everything about everything, but we must try to know about the things that matter to us and to the organisations that we work with.

Share your tips in the comments below: How do you stay up to date and informed about your industry, the business landscape, and personal growth? What sources do you find informative and interesting?

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