Board yet? – Preparing yourself for a board level position

The board room is no longer the sole domain of retired c-suites with time on their hands. Increasingly, board positions are being taken by younger professionals, working execs and women. And nowhere is this happening more than here in the UK, were mandated corporate governance encourages diversity.

Whatever your age, position or indeed, sex, there’s a difference between being experienced and being ‘board ready’. In this post, I’m going to discuss what you can do to prepare yourself for the leap to a board position.

‘Start strong and contribute confidently’

Whether you’ve already got the gig or are seeking your first board position, there are five important steps you can take to put yourself in a solid position to start strong and contribute confidently throughout your board career. I call them the ‘five foundations’ and the first one is all about understanding the needs of a board role compared to your previous (or other) roles.

Shift your skillset

Your experience will help you secure the position, but you’ll need to bring more to the table at this level. Forget technical and functional expertise and instead start practicing your ability to listen, advise and communicate. You’ve got the knowledge, now you’ll need to marry it with diverse and global thinking to confidently take the business forward.

Board level coaching

A board role brings with it new challenges and high levels of responsibility. Coaching can help you manage the pressure and extract your best performance. Possibly even more important at this level, a coach won’t pull any punches either…

“Does coaching work? Yes. Good coaches provide a truly important service. They tell you the truth when no one else will.” Jack Welch, Former CEO of General Electric

The ability to get an honest appraisal of where you’re at and where you could improve is essential as a new board member. At this level, there aren’t many people you can talk to openly, mainly because the information is complex or too sensitive. A coach can be your sounding board, helping you reflect, assess and develop in a fully confidential space.

Think differently

You’ll also need to start thinking big now you’re a board member. You need to consider global shifts and trends that could present threats and opportunities, you’ll need to be seeing the bigger picture and then using that information help steer the ship accordingly. Technological developments, geopolitical shifts, regulatory changes are just some areas you should keep an eye on.

Read more

“The secret of the board member that is universally interesting is that they’re universally interested.” William Dean Howells (ish)

I’m paraphrasing William there, but the point is, you’ll be in a better position to offer insightful and useful advice if you have every scrap of the latest knowledge in your arsenal. Read research pieces, blogs, periodicals, books, twitter feeds and whatever else you can get your eyes on.

As well as giving you the edge and helping you provide the best direction, consuming the latest news, thinking and developments will keep your mind active and alert to emerging global opportunities and threats. And never be afraid to ask questions to help you understand and implement new information.

Social networking

Networking in the new social age is a powerful tool, it can build much stronger relationships and increase your success immeasurably. Showing your face at galas and swapping anecdotes is no longer enough – it undersells you and reduces the ROI for your employers.

New networking is all about sharing your knowledge with a wider audience, taking your areas of strategic expertise and showcasing them. Write blogs or articles, do a podcast, speak at conferences, join associations – you’ll be strapped for time but the payback is a stronger you, stronger connections and a stronger offering as a board member.

Ready for the next step

So there you have it, the key ingredients of any successful board member. Actioning all five will help you prepare for a board position and ensure you continue to add value to the organisation. Final takeaway for you to ponder on – in the last decade boards have become one of the main sources of CEO candidates. Great motivation if you see a board role as the next step, not the end of the line.

In next week’s post we’ll be looking at how women are accelerating their eligibility for senior roles. Keep an eye out for it.

©Lumina Coaching Ltd