In a previous article, I wrote about how long you should expect to wait for a board appointment. I rather glibly stated that it was a simple equation – the harder you work the luckier you will get. Whilst true, it is also true to say that hard work alone isn’t everything. You must also be clear about what sort of organisation you want to be appointed to the board of.
As an example, I recently counselled a client who had run a significant sized family-owned retail business. He was convinced that he could play an effective role on a board of one of the major supermarket chains. 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 those boards. He was an appointable board member with strong skills but because his experience was not as competitive as others who might be considered for an appointment of this scope and scale, his aspirations did not stack up to the reality of such an appointment. As such, it is absolutely critical that your ASPIRATIONS are appropriate in the first instance. This is the first ‘pillar’ of a board appointment.
What sort of board appointment?
‘What sort of board appointment is right for me?’ is a question I am asked regularly by aspiring, and even experienced, board directors. Equally, ‘what organisation would you like to be appointed to?’ is the question I most regularly ask. You should be expected to be asked this as well – answering this question clearly and specifically is fundamentally important. Doing this is often far more challenging than it might initially seem. Time spent doing this is, however, time well spent. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is an essential first step for anyone wanting a board appointment. Why? Without this clarity, it is impossible for you to put into play the appropriate strategies and tactics you need to channel your efforts in a sustainable and successful way.
What most people say
Most people respond to this question in a fairly generic fashion. They speak about wanting to join the board of a quality organisation, one with a good board, an ethical board, the board of an organisation that operates in an industry that they are interested in or perhaps a board that will value their skills. Whilst these are not ‘wrong’ answers, they miss the point. A board appointment is far less about you and what you want; rather you need and instead it is about what the organisation wants and need.
What happens if you are not clear?
Well, let’s think back to my recent counselling client who was determined to get appointed to a major supermarket board. A number of adverse effects occurred due to the misalignment between his aspirations and the realities of where he would be appointed. The major issue here was not so much his unrealistic aspirations; rather it was his personal desires to be a board member (status, entitlement and self-interest) rather than being passionate about wanting to serve or using his experience on behalf of an organisation he could contribute to. This approach, unfortunately, had three significantly negative impacts:
- He quickly became disgruntled. He saw others as the stumbling blocks in his road to a board appointment. He never regarded anything else as the problem for his lack of board opportunities. As a result, his board aspirations fell away and he stopped pursuing even more appropriate opportunities. Disappointing, because he had lots to offer the right organisation.
- His reputation suffered. Telling others of his (your) unrealistic aspirations has the habit of negatively impacting his (your) reputation. This not only affected his board career but also his personal and professional reputation. We work so hard to build solid reputations and it doesn’t take too much to scuttle them.
- People were unwilling to help. 65% of board appointments come through your personal connections. These connections are only of value if your reputation is intact and you secure the reputation of others who represent you. As such, people he met and knew weren’t keen on helping him get a board appointment.
In my following articles, I will expand this topic of your Board Aspirations and the questions you need to ask yourself before deciding which board roles are right for you.
Regardless of the scope or scale of the organisation, you aspire to sit on the board of Board Direction can help you to do this.
Our Executive package in particular offers, in addition to all of the board vacancies we advertise and a NED CV, a Board Career Planning session. Completing it will help you define the sorts of organisations you can and want to be appointed to. Your first step to a successful appointment.
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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