A board career seems very attractive. From the outside, a board position looks prestigious and the ultimate of importance in a business. No doubt being a director is a pretty cool position to hold. It is, however, one that should not be entered into without a high regard for the responsibilities, accountability, and enormity that comes with the territory.
The logical question that people who have a desire to enter the boardroom is ‘how do I know when I’m ready to join a board?’
There are no hard and fast rules or legal requirements to getting on a board (only those of being over 18 years of age and not a bankrupt); however, there are some considerations that you need to make from a personal perspective (the business perspective is another post entirely!). Some of these I feel are ‘must haves’ and some of these are ‘helpful to have’.
1. A desire to contribute beyond your day job
Often referred to as having a “desire to give back”. This usually comes from wanting to contribute to an industry that has given you a fantastic career and/or you have spent your career in, or to utilise your expertise in a meaningful way.
2. The time
The time commitment required from directors varies across boards and director roles. You need to be conscious that you will have to invest your time over-and-above physically attending the regular board meeting.
What I mean is that you need to make time to read board reports, participate on a board committee or two, stay abreast of the industry, keep yourself updated with changes and trends across the legislation and business landscapes, and maintain a working level of knowledge and skill in your area of expertise.
Make sure your schedule has the capacity for full commitment to a board before you join.
3. A connection to or passion for the organisation’s cause
Being a director involves investing large amounts of time and energy to the purpose and objectives of the organisation. Having such a significant time and energy duty placed on you as a director, you want to be incredibly aligned both in purpose and values with what the organisation is trying to achieve. This alignment helps to keep you engaged, focused, and energised with your director work.
4. The mental capacity to be on a board: IQ and EQ
Even though there is no minimum legal qualification for being on a board, you should have a reasonable level of intelligence to understand the stuff you need to understand at the board level. Ignorance is not an excuse when things go wrong, so if you feel beyond your depth when considering boardroom matters, work on getting educated or consider an alternative to boards.
You should also work on having a reasonable level of emotional intelligence to help you integrate and work well in a unique team environment.
5. A readiness to invest in growing your director and board knowledge and skills
Following on from the point above, being a director requires ongoing education. Learning throughout your board career will be through a combination of formal, informal, and on-the-job training. It may benefit you to undertake formal director development prior to joining a board, or very shortly after you find yourself in the director seat.
6. A level of comfortable congruent with the level of responsibility and accountability that comes with the position of director.
As a director, the buck stops with you. This means ultimate responsibility and accountability. If the proverbial REALLY hits the fan, this can mean significant monetary fines, jail time, disqualification of being a director, and irreparable damage to your reputation.
Be [somewhat] comfortable with this and use it to spur you to do the job of director very well.
Helpful to Have
In addition to the above must-haves, it helps you to have:
7. A skillset needed on the board / of value to the organisation
Your expertise and professional experience will generally be the reason you join the board. It helps to know what skillset the board is looking for or requires. This is generally noted in their board vacancy advertisement or through some simple research looking at the existing board and senior organisational staff and the organisation’s strategic plan.
8. A supportive network who can champion you on to boards and/or make the right introductions
You don’t need to have connections in order to get on a board; however, having a strong network who can enhance and leverage your existing networking and board-seeking activities can expedite your journey to the boardroom. Be strategic with how you network in relation to your board goals. This post here can help.
9. A supportive family and workplace that enables you to invest the time required on your board
Having the time to invest into a board will usually mean less time at work, at home, and/or with friends. Having people around you that support your board career will make your board journey and experience all the more rewarding (and less guilt-ridden). Board service is a sacrifice, so make sure it’s a sacrifice worth making.
I hope these considerations help you to answer the question ‘how do I know when I’m ready to join a board?’.
As you can see, there’s not one simple answer for everybody; but there are certainly considerations that everybody should be making.
Share your thoughts in the comments: Which consideration resonated most with your board aspirations?
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