So You Want to Join a Board?

board-meetingThis is a common scenario…

John has been an executive for a while now, for a few different companies. He’s got a firm handle on running large divisions and headed up a small company the last few years. He’s had a prominent seat at the table in management strategy meetings to determine marketing, operations, and overall strategy directions. He’d like another career path milestone by landing a Board seat.

But he doesn’t know how to get there.

This happens a lot.

He’s been approaching it like he would a job: checking with his network and watching online. He doesn’t yet realize resumes and a typical cover letter aren’t the go-to personal marketing materials when it comes to Board seats. These documents speak to how John managed, led and motivated teams or employees, and John has been really good at all of those things over the years. Sure, he’s made mistakes, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. He’s a good executive. But a Board document is a whole separate animal. It focuses on true leadership, strategy, and governance types of accomplishments. It’s focused at a higher level.

According to Mark Pfister, the creator of the “Board as a Service” engagement model, one’s Board document needs to convey a step above the run-of-the-mill leadership deliverables. You need to show your independent thinking and thought autonomy outside of hierarchical structures. The goal is to showcase strategic thinking and achievements, not tactical.

Here’s a great article on creating a Board document that will get some traction. It would have helped John…a lot.

Packaging yourself for a Board role is the key.

Pfister, who helps put together Boards, looks for a correlation between the skill (know-how), expertise (experience), and certification (proof). Skill is where most people are strongest. They’ve come up through the ranks and have a deep understanding of strategy and governance, but that skill doesn’t translate into expertise in the Boardroom. Old school Board directors don’t think they need it, but new school Board aspirants pursue what’s changing in the Board director space and show they consider Board membership as more than a hobby. They do this by earning Board certifications from either the American College of Corporate Directors or the National Association of Corporate Directors.

In addition to Board certification, it’s important when packaging yourself for a coveted Board position to consider leadership skills, operational experience, and practical skill-sets and experience. It’s vital to understand who is already on the Board and what role you’d be expected to play. Effective Boards are diverse in terms of its members’ experience, gender, age, ethnicity, industry, and approach to life and business. You need to know the Board’s composition so you can articulate what you can add that is missing. The good Boards aren’t looking for a copy of what they already have.

Pfister suggests Board seekers identify one “major” and three “minors”. Your major would be your main title and/or expertise area. You minors would be areas that can easily be correlated to common Board committees.

Here’s what John went with after listening to Pfister’s session of ExecuNet Master Class master class:

John A. Rivers

Chief Technology Officer – major

(with focus in Strategy, Governance and Technology/Cybersecurity) – minor

This concept allows for direct correlation to committees the Board would value. If you package yourself in a way that directly relates to their committees, you make it so much easier for them to envision you among them.

For more on this and how to better understand Board positions, listen to the recording of Pfister’s session of ExecuNet Master Class. The full recording of Becoming an Exceptional Board Candidate is available only to VIP members – here’s a free preview where he talks about packaging yourself for a Board seat. A formula does exist to increase your chances of Board selection and success once appointed. Pfister literally puts Boards together and he knows exactly what it takes to be considered. There’s no one better equipped to provide advice you can trust to get you into the Boardroom

So what did John do?

John did his homework. He talked to a lot of people. He listened to Pfister’s master class and learned to position himself in a way that appealed to Boards. Still with no Board experience, he received some sage advice from a friend already on a Board: “Look to serve on a non-profit board, something that you care about and will bring a passion for.” That was wise counsel. Today, John is a Board member of an organization dedicated to making sure the elderly receive the care they need. He chose that because he was working with his own aging mother as she transitioned into an assisted living situation, so it was a topic that he was experiencing firsthand and understood how emotional and difficult it could be for all involved.

That’s a great way to break into Board service. It’s a bit easier to start there – and you may well find don’t want to be anywhere else!

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To help you better understand what you need to know to land a Board seat, highly experienced Board member Mike Lorelli led a session of ExecuNet Master Class. Having served on nine Boards, Michael Lorelli is the ideal person to help you become more marketable to be a serious Board candidate. In Landing Board Seats Mike  addresses how to clarify your reasons for seeking Board work, how to build your Board credentials, and what you need in your messaging.

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is ExecuNet's president and chief economist. An Arjay Miller Scholar, Mark received his MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Yale University. He joined ExecuNet in 1993, with extensive marketing and new product and business development experience, having served as president and founder of A&M Associates, an investment management firm. Mark's corporate leadership experience includes several senior marketing and financial positions with RCA Global Communications (a GE subsidiary) and American Can Company.

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