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What board can I realistically be appointed to?


This question is one that I am asked most often by aspiring, and even experienced, board directors.

Whilst there is no such thing as a perfect board candidate, understanding what boards look for in potential board members should go some way to you answering this question for yourself.

However, having said that and on reflection, I think that this is often the wrong question to ask. Instead, I recommend you put yourself in the shoes of a Chair and ask yourself the question ‘What sort of board member would you appoint to your board?’ Be critical.

I counseled a client recently who had run a significant sized Family Owned food manufacturing business. He was convinced that he could play an effective role on a board of one of the major supermarkets. Indeed, he may have been able to contribute but, he was never going to have the opportunity to do so because he was never going to be appointed to the board. Why? Primarily, because he did not have the: self-awareness to recognize that he was not appropriately qualified, connected or have enough experience.

The major issue here was not so much his unrealistic aspirations but rather it was his desire to be a board member rather than being passionate about serving. This approach unfortunately had three further significant and negative impacts including:

  1. He became disgruntled with his board search very quickly. Other people were deemed the stumbling blocks for his lack of board opportunities.
  1. His reputation suffered. Others recognized that his arrogance in believing that he could, and should, sit on any board made him an unsuitable candidate.
  1. His unrealistic aspirations translated to a personal reputational risk for those he met. As such, no new introductions were forthcoming despite, no doubt, that those he met could have helped him on his journey.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with having big aspirations for your board career. However, based on your experience to date and having realistic aspirations as to what kind of board you can be appointed to will make a significant difference to the success of your journey towards a fulfilling board career.

However, on the assumption that you are willing to manage your expectations and aspirations, asking yourself the kind of questions below might help narrow down the sort of board that you will likely be appointed to and should aspire to, at least initially, apply for.

Questions to ask yourself include:

  1. Do you need to get paid?

Only considering paid board roles can be a stumbling block for many. Instead, consider whether being part of an influential board or company is enough?

  1. Do you have past board experience?

If not, put yourself in the seat of a Chair – what kind of board would you realistically appoint yourself to?

  1. What is your skill set?

Think critically about how valuable is it at board level and try to consider a practical example of your contribution.

  1. Where do you live?

If you live some distance from where the organisation operates think about would you would add as a board member above and beyond that which a more local candidate would?

  1. What your contacts are like?

Are they industry based and as such deep and narrow or shallow but broad? In either case how do they relate to the needs of the board – and which board in particular?

  1. What your timings are?

How quickly ‘must’ you get your next board appointment? Are you willing to hold out for the perfect board or will something that you are passionate about but not perfect suffice initially?

  1. What are your passions for being on a board?

Can you demonstrate a passion for board work or the industry in general and not just for wanting to be a board member?

  1. How much time do you have?

Board work can be demanding and often conflicts with your executive career. Can you afford at least one day out of the office a month?

  1. How much preparation are willing to do to be appointed?

Applying for and being appointed to a board can be even more labour intensive than applying for a board role. Are you prepared for the journey?

By managing your expectations and taking a critical look at what you have to offer a board should go some way to answer the question of ‘which sort of board you should aspire to be appointed to?’ Regardless of the scope or scale of the organisation you are applying to sit on the board of you must ‘dare them not to appoint you’. Board Direction can help you to do this.

What next?

Board Direction is Australia’s leading Non Executive Director advertising & board career development firm – no one does what we do or can reference the success that we have had in putting people on boards. Specifically, we do two things.

  1. We advertise Australia’s largest & most diverse list of non-executive board vacancies – over 2000 each year
  2. We equip members to develop a board career through practical career services like: Board CV writing, Application Support, the Board Search Course & Non Executive Program and our Board Search Masterclasses & Breakfasts.

People use our services because what we do has been proven to work. As a result, we can evidence having assisted hundreds of members further their board careers through the intimate knowledge we have gained through over a decade of putting people on boards. So, if you: are frustrated with your current board search; can’t find relevant opportunities; have stalled portfolio career; can’t get, or can’t get past, an interview Board Direction can help.

David Schwarz, CEO & Founder