The Elusive Board Seat…

In numerous missives, I’ve discussed my role on a particular board, both nonprofit and corporate. I love being on boards. The excitement of guiding an organization forward to greater success is exhilarating. The angst of guiding an organization forward through a disaster or desperate financial situation is exhilarating. My fellow board members and the CEO are stimulating.

I’m asked by executives from time to time how I do it—how I get my board seats, and, it follows, how they can get one too. They’re usually thinking about corporate board seats that come with cash and/or some form of equity. Not non-profit board seats where the board member money flows the other way.

I always respond by asking them why they want to be on a board and if they understand the responsibilities of board membership. I let them know there’s a reason there’s Director and Officer’s insurance…

Some can answer these questions satisfactorily. They’ve clearly thought about what these positions entail, perhaps have done some reading on the subject of board membership, and probably talked to other board members about their board activities. Others know little about what’s involved, and don’t seem to have any particular reason for wanting to be on a board other than to be able to say they’re on one…and for the compensation of course.

Not good reasons. If you can’t articulate clearly why you want to be on a board and the value you bring, why will anyone offer you such an important and powerful position?

So, once you’ve figured out why you want to be on a board and what value you offer, how do you actually get a board seat

  • Become good at what you do. Whatever it is. Boards need all kinds of expertise to be able to effectively guide an organization to great success.
  • Exhibit successful leadership. The primary role of a board is to lead an organization to greater success. Show people you have the strategic thinking and leadership skills to do this.
  • Learn how to express your particular expertise clearly, simply, and in ways that show you understand the big issues of running an organization and can apply your knowledge to the issues boards face so will be a valuable board member.
  • Give first. When you meet someone who might have access to a board opening, give them an experience of what you’d be like as a board member. Solve a problem, offer a new idea, provide some useful connections.
  • Spend time in places and with people who own and run companies. Get to know them and ensure they understand your value and interest in a board seat.
  • And finally, a shortcut: if you have any good friends who own companies that have boards…

These tips sound a lot like what you have to do to be successful at anything, so if they seem obvious, they are. Nevertheless, they’re worth keeping in mind as you pursue your quest to become a desired board member…and a more effective executive.

Good luck.





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