Three Mistakes I’ve Made as a Board Member

Three common mistakes made by board members

Mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating. And this is the mantra that I carry around with me. But I still hate stuffing up. I actually think that I get more disappointed with myself than the people around me do.

And I’ve also found that until you make a mistake and get that uncomfortable feeling that goes with it, you don’t have a compelling reason to change your behaviour. So to me, mistakes are a positive experience; in the long run.

I’ve made many mistakes over the past 2 years of my board career. Here are three of the top ones that I have personally made, and what I did to overcome them.


Letting my emotions get the better of me

Whenever you have to work with a group of people to achieve outcomes it is highly likely that at least one person in that group will know exactly how to push your buttons by saying or doing something incredibly frustrating.

Sadly, this has happened to me many times. The trick is not letting it get to you to the point where you raise your voice and say something you might regret later.

Here are three things that I do to minimise the chance of getting frustrated by someone and running off at the mouth.

  1. Pause before responding when you feel like you’re getting annoyed. A good idea is to take a breath. It’s in this moment you can talk yourself off the edge.
  2. Seek first to understand. Consider asking questions to help understand the other person’s perspective and clarify exactly what it is they are saying (as hard as it may be to believe, you may be misunderstanding their point). Do this by asking questions that allow them to expand on their point.
  3. Practice doing the top two things. They are harder than you think. And you will stuff up. And kick yourself for doing so. But remember, practice makes perfect.


Not valuing my opinion / suggestion / idea

How many times have you sat in a meeting and talked yourself out of that great suggestion or idea you’ve just thought of? Or perhaps you debate with yourself (read: coming up with all the reasons why it’s wrong) about the opinion you hold around a topic being covered, or think it’s just plain stupid?

At times it’s good to have our thinking challenged – this is the foundation of a high performing group of people; however, if you feel that you’re frequently second-guessing yourself, there’s some work to do.

Personally, most of the second-guessing that we do of ourselves has a lot to do with confidence. A long time ago, my boss (at the time) gave me some sage advice: have courage in your convictions. Essentially what this means is to have a strong belief in your thoughts, opinions, suggestions, and ideas.

It doesn’t mean trying to force your perspective on to people. It does mean having solid reasoning as to why you have a certain view on things, and sticking to your guns when challenged (side note: I’m never set in solid concrete on most of my positions; if a solid counter-argument can be made, I am happy to sway or even change my position entirely).

Some easy ways to exercise your thinking and gain comfort with sharing your perspectives is to:

  1. Play devil’s advocate (taking a position you do not necessarily agree with; or simply an alternative position from the accepted norm; for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further),
  2. Asking a “stupid question”, or
  3. Using effective questioning to influence a change in people’s thinking or perspective.


Not thinking enough about a problem / challenge before a meeting

In the past, I have left it to a day or so before a meeting to set aside adequate time to think about and research key challenges that the board (or committee) needs to address.

This is purely bad planning on my part. And knowing it’s an ‘area for improvement’ means that I can work on overcoming it.

The thing that is not so obvious when you join a board is the amount of time you need to dedicate away from board meetings to learning, thinking, and talking about problems and challenges facing the organisation.

Not giving enough time to problems and challenges means that solutions are often rushed through, done reactively, and not considered fully. Meaning, you have more work to do now and into the future, and a great learning or improvement opportunity has been missed. I’ve come to understand that a lot of work that a board does happens away from the board meeting.

There are a couple of things that I do to give myself the best shot at keeping on top of all of the important happenings within the business and on the board.

  • Schedule in time to read your board / committee papers, ensuring there is adequate time before the actual meeting for you to make any necessary further enquiries (emails, phone calls, research, etc.).
  • Read all of the emails you receive relating to the organisation, board, and committees (even if you’re not in that committee) – it’s nice to imagine that you’re sitting above and across all of the moving parts. You don’t have to meddle in everything, just have an awareness of what’s going on.

As a new board member, you will make mistakes. And that’s OK. As long as you’re learning from them (and you are not doing anything illegal or unethical). Be brave and understand that these mistakes – made once – will likely not end your board career.


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