If you’ve ever found yourself in a group of people feeling like you don’t fit in, that they don’t really ‘get you’ and you don’t ‘get’ them, like a fish out of water, or extremely uncomfortable, awkward, and wondering how on earth you ended up in this situation, the chances are you’re with people who have very different values to you.
Feeling this way when you find yourself on a board, after doing the hard work to get on there in the first place, is extremely disheartening. You try to justify and excuse things, but deep down you know it’s just not working.
I know this feeling and, I have to tell you, it did not end well (surprise, surprise). I should have paid attention to those weird, uncomfortable feelings rather than make excuses for them.
As such, I want to share some hard-learned lessons with you so that you can be sure to find a board that you vibe with so that you can thrive in the boardroom.
Before I jump in; let me clarify what I mean when I talk about ‘values’.
Your values are ‘… principles or standards of behaviour; [it’s your] judgement of what is important in life’ (source dictionary.com). As an example, some common values include integrity, honesty, loyalty, teamwork, learning, growth, and fairness.
It’s highly likely that you have developed a set of personal and professional values over your life, often without even noticing. The chances are, if you’re happy in your workplace and feel that you are a valued employee, it’s likely that there is an alignment between your values and your company’s values.
If you haven’t done so previously, it may be worthwhile taking some time to consider what your personal and professional values are, and writing them down. If you’re looking for some help in understanding what your values are, check out these resources:
Now, here are some ways to ensure that you stay true to your values and that they align with the board you’re looking to join (or that you’re currently on).
1. Do your research to determine the values of the organisation and board you are looking to join.
Review their website and other information sources for cues on their values. Often an organisation explicitly shares or lists their core values. Additionally, consider talking to current staff members, customers, and board members. Asking this question during a board interview or as part of your initial conversations is worth including in your due diligence activities.
Determine if they ‘walk their talk’. Review what they report on in their annual report, the news they share about themselves, and what’s on the board’s agenda and reports (these are often shared as part of the director recruitment process). What are they watching – numbers, outcomes, etc.? What type of decisions are they making? Do they align to their values?
Continue to evaluate once you’re on the board.
2. Don’t compromise.
It’s a losing game. And chances are, you’ll be the loser.
You need to feel a connection and have a deep care factor with the organisation you serve. If you’re bothered by the way they do things and the things they accept or don’t accept, you need to do something about that. Don’t join the board, or, if you’re already there, talk to the Chair about your concerns and take the appropriate follow-up actions.
3. Understand that your values will change and grow with you.
I used to get so frustrated when people would tell me that you need to have experience to get certain jobs. Now that I’m a little older and have had some actual experience, I can admit that they were right!
You will have many experiences over your professional and board careers. These experiences give us perspective and understanding. In turn, our values change and adapt as our experiences increase. Take the time to regularly check-in with yourself (review the list of values I encouraged you to write down) to ensure your values are positively serving you and that you’re living in alignment with them.
This type of conversation may feel a little touchy-feely in the context of boards and governance. It is. But I have found that these sorts of things make a considerable impact on our success (or not) on a board. So for that reason, it’s a worthwhile conversation to have.
Let me know in the comments below: how have you experienced your values impacting your professional or board career (either positively or negatively)?
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