Why the Chair is the Key to your next Board Appointment

Why the Chair is the Key to your next Board Appointment
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I want to examine the Chair’s motivations because, regardless of how you might be appointed, the Chairperson is key to whether you are appointed or not. For many of you, this will seem obvious, but it is worth pausing to consider what this means for your potential appointment. So, I am going to break it down for you.

To Begin With

Why is the Chairperson the key to all board appointments? Because, most obviously, they are the ultimate decision-makers who must sign off on any new appointment. Which is right and proper; after all, it is their reputation that is first on the line before anyone else’s, should your appointment not work out. Of course, they do not make their decision in a vacuum. A Chairperson has to appease many different stakeholders – internal and external, perhaps shareholders or shareholders and clients or even the CEO/executive team – which means that they need assurance that you are not a risk to their board’s dynamics or the organisation’s future. This element of risk is critical to understand.

A Board is not like a rockpool – Why Chairs are like Northern Quolls and you are like a cane toad.

Many people believe that boards are a bit like a rockpool. A rockpool – like the one you might find on a headland or a beach – is a robust ecosystem thriving on change, i.e. the tide coming in and out twice a day, delivering any number of new entities into its presence which all thrive from the ecosystem in its own way. Many think a board operates the same way – as a new member joins, it adapts accordingly, and it becomes stronger for it. For some, this might be true. The reality, however, is often vastly different and there have been plenty of examples of even high-profile boards that, after the addition of a new board member, the dynamics have changed adversely. This leads to a headache for the Chair, reduces effectiveness, makes governance a challenge and, most importantly, jeopardises the reputation of the Chair. Any change to a board’s composition makes a Chair extremely nervous.

As such, Chairs often consider themselves akin to a Northern Quoll and potential board members (you!) as cane toads. Consider the introduction of the cane toad to Australia in 1935 to control the native grey-backed cane beetle. Despite the best intentions, the introduction of this single entity has had a devastating effect on Australia’s native ecosystem and the Northern Quoll (that eats cane toads and die as a result) in particular.

What difference does it make if a Chair thinks they are a Northern Quoll? 

In short – it makes every difference. Understanding firstly that the Chairperson is key to your appointment, means that you should target everything you do and say towards that individual. Secondly, understanding they are nervous about your potential appointment means that you must do everything you can to de-risk your appointment in their eyes and secure their well-earned reputation.

Understanding that any new appointment (yours) will change the dynamics of a board is important to grasp. Once you have, you will naturally understand that the Chairperson needs a level of comfort before appointing anyone new (you) to their board. Doing so will also give you some insight into how you might be able to facilitate this level of comfort.

If you are submitting applications without doing any research, approaching organisations not being a ‘known quantity’, not speaking to the organisation before applying, writing quick applications without detailed knowledge or expecting that your past experience will get you appointed, then you are drastically reducing your chance of getting an interview – let alone being appointed – because your potential appointment poses a risk to the reputation and livelihood of the Chair. Perhaps more than all of that, you are missing out on opportunities that you may not have even considered.

How to De-risking your appointment

Exactly how you de-risk your appointment, is what I am going to write about in my next two articles. Specifically, I am going to write about what some might consider a dry subject – research. However, of all the support we offer our members, this is the most valuable thing we can teach them. Because, when implemented, it is this research that gets them appointed most often and absolutely separates them from their competitors. It revolutionises their appointability!


Our Executive Members learn how to identify and to research potential organisation, how to reach out to board members, how to deal with the chair plus how to articulate their skills at board level and diminish perceived risk. 

⇒ Learn More about our Executive Members 

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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