Why You’ll Never be Ready to Join a Board

You will never be ready to join a board

I was recently discussing with a friend about how we felt after we first joined a board. The feelings of being ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘not what I was expecting’ were shared between us.

My friend commented, “The more I learned and experienced, the more I realised I didn’t know.”  And this scared him. Actually, it scared both of us, because I could absolutely relate to what he was saying and there were so many unknown unknowns.

Fortunately, this naivety allowed us to jump feet-first into board positions at a relatively young age. If I had seen the murk I was about to immerse myself in, I probably would have rolled my towel open and read a nice book, safe and sound on the shore. This post is for all of you who may be considering observing from the shore.

The way I see it, is that you can never be fully prepared for a board role. In addition to the legal and ethical requirements, there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on and that you need to be aware of than what first appears.

The only way to deal with situations like this is to roll your sleeves up and muck-in. Learn on the fly. Fly by the seat of your pants.

The only thing to keep in mind is to keep learning. Everything is a lesson and a learning opportunity.

I’ll share a personal story with you. A vast majority of my boards are in industries that I had no idea about when I first joined them. Particularly my first ‘proper board’, a community bank.

I had no banking experience, had very little idea on how the banking industry made its money, and what ‘levers’ within the business had to be pulled to make a bank survive and thrive. Throw into that a volatile global financial market and, forget about learning curve, I was on a learning vertical!

True to the rest of my working career, I committed first and worked out how to do it as I went. I read widely, attended events and meetings about banking, talked to my fellow board members, talked to bankers and others in the financial industry, tried to understand financial markets and the impact that local and world events has on not just the larger financial markets but on our one bank in a small suburb of Adelaide.

Beyond learning about the industry and the organisation, there was much to learn about being a director. The emphasis on influence, the need for team work, the ability to challenge ideas, needing to keep your eye on the whole picture rather than just a piece of the business, the importance of leadership, the requirement to protect yourself and your assets, D&O insurance, I could keep going, but I think you get the picture.

The point I am trying to make is that you can’t ever wait until you are fully ready to join a board. For most of you, you won’t be. You have to recognise that you have skills are applicable to and transferrable across a wide range of industries and businesses. Don’t be too scared to give it a go, undersell yourself, or box yourself in to one particular industry or type of organisation.

Work to unearth the unknown unknowns. There will be many and they will go beyond the workings of the business and the industry. Be a forever learner and grow into your role as a company director.

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