You know your weak ties are the most valuable when it comes to gaining a board appointment. To create these sorts of connections, you need to develop relationships with people you don’t know/know well. Too many overthink this process, the doubt kicks in and procrastination reigns. Queue the nail-biting to begin – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
LinkedIn gets results
You are unlikely to know this, but I am currently searching for a board appointment. To be honest not that proactively. However, I came across (an advertised a role on our site for a board member in a different state) an organisation that I had some experience with in the past, but had lost touch. It was within an industry I am passionate about (social housing). It got me thinking whether there were opportunities in NSW too. So I decided to get proactive. Knowing first that: I had NED experience in a similar industry, understanding that my industry and governance experience could be valuable, being well connected and being genuinely passionate about what they do… I decided to get connecting.
Using LinkedIn and my two-step approach, I connected with six past NEDs, Committee Members and Executives of the organisation. Many (ok most) were above my paygrade. It was a simple introduction that reflected my board profile and an authentic approach. I received six positive responses to have conversations with them. The conversations were terrific. Not long – they didn’t need to be – but illuminating. Multiple offers to introduce me to people who could help and numerous requests for me to help them. In the end, it wasn’t the opportunity that was right for me (too operational and not a terrific ROI on my time), but that isn’t the point. I now have six people (it could have been far more) that I hope will advocate for me in the future, six people I can introduce people to and six personal connections that I didn’t have before—all in the space of 20 minutes of using LinkedIn and an hour or so of phone calls.
I hope this article will explain to you how you can replicate this sort of approach.
Why is LinkedIn so valuable when making board connections?
As you can tell, I am a big fan of LinkedIn (I am a Top 10 user with 30,000+ NED connections) because it is a fantastic, and under-utilised way to develop the sort of connections you need to get appointed in an appropriate manner. Moreover, I think it is an incredible resource for developing and leveraging weak tie connections. Indeed, if there is a more suitable platform to use to do this, I don’t know of it. Oh, and it works.
Unlike networking events that rely upon your ability to operate effectively in a formal environment, are only as good as the people that attend AND that you can speak with, and are run/attended infrequently, LinkedIn has none of these restrictions.
LinkedIn is always open; you get to target precisely those you want to speak with and approaching people electronically that you don’t know takes far less courage than doing so in person.
Still, people are nervous about leveraging all that LinkedIn offers. This is often the case because the ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ are missing. Let’s begin with the ‘why’.
65% of people are appointed to boards via a personal connection. But perhaps 50% of all appointments are made via personal connections they see rarely or infrequently. So connecting with people is vital. LinkedIn facilitates these connections. That is why.
However, the ‘why’ question runs deeper than this. It speaks of your motivation to connect beyond positioning yourself for a board appointment. Authenticity is key. To have a legitimate approach, the ‘who’ must first be defined.
Being clear on the board appointment you want has to be your first step. When it comes to developing the right personal connections authentically, you must be clear on the names of the businesses/organisations you both want and can be appointed to. Once you are, then the ‘who’ becomes more apparent and the ‘how’ easier still.
But, it is not enough to just be connected. Let’s face it, having thousands of connections whom you never communicate with is just folly if you expect them to lead to a board appointment. Instead, to effectively build powerful connections using LinkedIn, and like any social media platform, you must carve out time to dedicate to doing this and have a strategy and approach to do so.
I recommend a two-step approach. First connecting with a ‘micro yes’ request and then following the successful connection request responding with a structured response that is legitimate, authentic and drives a relationship. I am being a little coy here. I offer the details to my members in the 28 Day Board Search Intensives I run, as well as in the Board Search Training Series and Implementation Sessions I just recorded as part of our Executive Membership. However, using your board profile as a guide should help you write a message that promotes your value proposition in a legitimate and appropriate manner. Just remember – don’t ask for a job!
Once you have connected, your role is to stay connected and to nurture the relationship. I presented some thoughts on how to do that in my previous articles.
It works if you work it
The more time you dedicate to pursuing opportunities and engaging with your connections, the more this approach will generate board opportunities for you. Don’t take the action of connecting with people too seriously – what is the worst that could happen? Most on LinkedIn are happy to engage, give their opinions and help. Be bold, introduce yourself, offer to help, be curious and enjoy the experience.
A word of warning
When using LinkedIn and connecting with your weak ties, you must have a well-composed Board Profile and include it on your LinkedIn page.
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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