Articulation – The most valuable thing you can do to gain a Board Appointment!

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Often the most valuable thing you can do to gain a non-executive director (NED) appointment is to simply tell people you are looking for one. However, when you do, you need to be ready for two subsequent questions to come your way. If you can’t answer them, then the chances of you either finding or gaining a board role will become increasingly difficult.

It sounds simple – but it works

My article about the Fundamental Attribution Error explains why this approach works. Put simply, people only know what you tell them. If you are looking for a board role, it is critical that people know you are looking. 

Telling people you are looking for a board appointment is a surprisingly powerful and simple action that creates board opportunities. In fact, one of my NED Program members did that recently. She was at a function where she spoke with someone she had not met before. She explained her board aspirations to them. The following conversation resulted in her (ultimately) being presented with a board opportunity that she had never considered and was very much interested in. She was successful because she was prepared for two questions.

Aspiration & Articulation

The first question you will be asked is, ‘Why do you want to be a NED? ‘ The second is, ‘What organisations would you like to be on the board of?’ Answering these two questions will help you address the first two of three core pillars supporting a board appointment: Aspiration and Articulation.

Aspiration – What board is right for you? 

Aspiration means knowing your board aspirations and compiling a clearly defined (named) list of target organisations that you both want AND could be appointed to. This is absolutely your first step. 

You must be able to rattle off this list of potential targets and ALSO articulate why you should be appointed to the boards of these organisations. If you can’t, then there is little point in listing these organisations in the first place because you won’t be able to convince anyone that you are a suitable candidate for those roles.

Articulation – What’s your value?

You need to dedicate some time and effort to this, but I can guarantee that getting it right will save you time in the long run. So, let’s delve into the details. 

Articulation starts with understanding your motivations and the motivations of the ultimate decision-makers. It results in a pitch that leaves no doubt as to why you should be seriously considered for the board role.  

It matters because if you are going to start telling people you are looking for a board role, then you need to be ready for their response—‘Why do you want a board appointment?’ This is a very common question and is the first question I ask people when they approach me for advice. I do so because I want to gauge whether they have thought about this. Whether they have or have not speaks volumes.

Picture this: You are attending an event and having a ‘water cooler’ moment with someone you meet. You introduce yourself by telling them what you do and that you are also building a board career. You have piqued their interest, so they ask you—out of curiosity or perhaps they are sizing you up—‘Why do you want to be a non-executive director?’ What would you say?

Most people answer this question one of two ways, with the vast majority of people getting it wrong. Successful non-executive directors get it right, resulting in appointments to opportunities they hadn’t even pursued.

Articulate what?

Like many, I suspect you will begin by telling people about your motivation, enthusiasm, and suitability for board work. You might go on to tell them about your executive experience and that you have the capacity to sit on a board. Telling them about your motivations but failing to address their motivations is a fundamental error and is where most people go wrong.

You see, people spend too much time thinking about why they think they should be appointed to a board and not enough time considering the motivations of the Chair (or the ultimate decision-maker) to appoint, recommend, or support them. 

Whilst your motivations do count, using this approach alone will omit the information that others really care about—information that will prompt them to help you achieve your board aspirations This help may be in the form of a personal introduction to a peer who might be looking for a NED or can make further introductions, an offer to help directly, or even an offer to join a board based on a vacancy they are associated with.

As such, articulating your value at board level is compellingly and absolutely critical. Anything less will result in missing or being passed over for board opportunities. Once you have that structure and confidence, know the right people to speak to, and know how to approach them, you will unlock board opportunities you never thought were possible.

Don’t forget a formal board pitch 

A verbal, non-formal ‘water cooler’ pitch is essential, but you also need to be prepared to take it a step further.

You will need to answer the first question you get in a board interview: ‘Why should we appoint you to our board?’. This verbal pitch also needs to be complimented with a powerful written board profile and board CV. Together, this language will de-risk you as a candidate, separate you from your competitors and help you access the 80%+ of board roles that are never advertised.

Writing Board CVs and Profiles that clearly articulate your value at board level is not easy and is not everyone’s happy place, but it is ours. Maybe we can help? If you are not already a member, book a call with us today to find out how or take a look at what we do

Related Articles

Understanding the Fundamental Attribution Error is fundamental

Why the Chair is the Key to a Board Appointment

How to write a powerful Board Profile



About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world

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