I have never spoken to a board director that said finding that first directorship was quick or easy. Most of the time they describe it as arduous and time consuming – though our services do make the journey far more enjoyable and profitable.
In talking to literally thousands of NED’s over the past 10+ years, I have found the two biggest mistakes many prospective NED’s make:
- Not starting the board search process early enough and
- Not understanding how the board appointment process really works.
1. Not Starting the Board Search Process Early Enough
Starting early in pursuit of a board career is important for two reasons. In the first case, the composition of boards has changed. One of these changes that we see with most boards are that they are more diverse. It used to be that middle-aged men, usually retired from their successful executive careers, were the most desirable candidates to fill the seats around a board table. But the world has changed and along with it, the composition of boards.
Today we see more diversity in the boardroom than ever before. Not only is there more gender and race diversity in the modern boardroom, the faces have become younger. With technology having such a big impact on today’s world, boards find it increasingly necessary to appoint younger directors who are in touch with the growth in technology and how it can be used to the organisation’s advantage.
Additionally, waiting until you come to the end of your executive career to consider a board appointment, is counter productive.
Too many executives throw themselves into an executive career at the expense of board appointments in the misplaced belief that their board aspirations will work themselves out sometime in the future. Whilst completely understandable (we are all busy) if a board appointment is an aspiration then they must carve out time now to prepare for it. Why? Because they will be competing against others who have the same experience as they do but also experience as a non-executive director and proven governance successes – traits that in a highly competitive environment, are highly desirable.
2. Not Understanding how the Board Appointment Process Really Works
There is a vast difference between the executive and the board appointment process. The differences are important to know as they should shape the way you structure your preparation as well as your search for a board appointment.
For example did you know that:
- Boards look for 5 key traits in successful board candidates
- 50% of people are appointed to boards via connections they see ‘rarely or infrequently’
- 15% of people are appointed by directly approaching organisations that they would like to sit on the board of
- Only 17% of people were appointed via a connection that they saw regularly
- Less than 10% of people were appointed via recruiters
- 10% of people were appointed via responding to an advertisement.
By simply understanding the board appointment process – what works and what doesn’t – should revolutionise the way you go about searching for a board directorship. It also demands the development of specific strategies and tactics to be successful in this quest.
Looking at all these factors, you can see how beginning your board career early, knowing the five things Chairs look for in successful candidates and understanding how board members are appointed, can make all the difference when embarking on your board career.
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. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 20,000 connections. Email: [email protected]