The Seven Qualities of Great Board Members
Even though I have only spent a relatively short amount of time on boards, I feel that I can say with some confidence that I have experienced a wide assortment of the types of personalities that sit on a board of directors. I currently sit with approximately 25 other board members across four boards. Including previous boards, that number reaches above 40; so you name, I’ve probably seen it!
Having the opportunity to interact regularly with so many personalities has also allowed me to identify the particular personal qualities that set great company directors apart (over-and-above the minimum requirements and expectations of directors of course).
I have distilled my list down to seven characteristics that I feel are the essential traits of successful board members and company directors:
1. They have a high level of Commitment
First and foremost is having commitment. Being a director extends to more than just attending a monthly or bi-monthly board meeting. The most effective directors ensure their level of commitment allows them to contribute effectively to the board, committees, and attending relevant events whilst staying well informed and up-to-date with the organisation, their area of expertise, and the business and governance landscapes.
2. They know how to Lead and Influence
Savvy directors understand that it is with and through everyone in the organisation that business goals are achieved; therefore, being able to lead and influence others is a critical skill for board members to have – even for those who don’t sit in a position of authority (e.g. Chair, President, Deputy Chair, Vice President).
3. They invite a healthy level of Candour to the table
Candour involves frank, straightforward, stimulating conversations. As Jack Welch put it, it cuts through the BS, gets more people involved in conversation, and generates speedy decision-making. Candid directors know how to invite candour into board discussions without coming across rude, arrogant, or pushy.
4. They can Argue their point without making it personal
The ability to construct a comprehensive case for or against something without making it personal about fellow board members, or in a manner that is personally self-serving is a skill that great directors hold. It involves consideration, forethought, and a deep understanding of how the other board members think and what their biases are.
5. They know which Battles to fight
I tend to be a little (ok, a lot!) competitive, and my husband often has to remind me to ‘win the war, not the battle’. I’ve also noticed that the best directors I sit with practice this philosophy. Even after they have made a strong argument and believe strongly in their position, they know when to let things ‘through to the keeper’ so as to not be perceived as someone who always needs to get their own way.
6. They check their Ego at the door
Ego can be the undoing of even the most brilliant of people. For some, when they join a board, the esteem of the ‘director’ title can distort their personal perception and make them believe that they can ignore points one to five above and still remain effective and respected. To not fall into that trap, great directors leave their ego outside of the boardroom and truly act in the best interest of the organisation, not themselves.
7. They are life-long Learners
Remaining committed to continued personal and professional development is close to our heart at Get on Board and I have noticed that the business leaders and board members that I most respect and admire also adopt this philosophy. As the pace of change, technology, and innovation quickens, staying ahead of the game is critical for anyone in business, not just directors. Just as important is continually learning about and developing ourselves as leaders and good corporate and community citizens.
I am sure there are many other qualities that go into making a great board member, and that what defines ‘great’ may be dependent on the specific needs of an organisation at a particular point in time. I have based my list of seven traits of great directors on my experiences and observations over the past 3 years of sitting on boards across sporting clubs, charities, not-for-profits, listed companies, and private family businesses.
What traits would you add to this list?