What does it take to serve on a board?

by Dan Byrne on Sep 6, 2022

how to serve on a board

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Have you ever let self-doubt hold you back from seeking a position on a board?

Many seasoned professionals in the corporate world feel that a board position would be a fantastic addition to their CV but allow themselves to be held back by a lack of familiarity. 

The most important thing to remember is that while joining a board is a huge responsibility requiring unique skill sets, it is achievable, even for people with little to no experience in the area.

To simplify things, let’s break it down into a list of critical essentials.

The seven essentials for serving on a board

Be clear about your motivations

Nowadays, boards are crucial to effective corporate leadership. Stakeholders will depend on their distinct experience and vantage point for help in guiding strategy. Because of this, any candidate for board membership must have a genuine passion for the industry and the business cause. 

Before joining a board, compare your values with those of the company. They should align strongly, if not completely.

A grasp on your industry

Your knowledge about your industry will decide what kind of board member you’ll be. 

If you are still unfamiliar with a lot, you could quickly become a ‘fly on the wall’ in board meetings with little to offer because you simply cannot grasp the depths of the challenges in front of you. 

On the other hand, if you are a true expert in your field, you will be able to critique every single business decision and pinpoint the impact it will have in the context of your sector. 

This skill comes mostly from experience, so, with few exceptions, you should seek board positions in the industry you’re familiar with. It is the best path for you because you will then have the opportunity to use your track record fully.

The right training

Being on a board may often come in the later stages of a person’s business career, but don’t take that to mean experience is the only requirement. 

Like any other job, the greatest chance for success comes from having proper training. Amazingly though, only around 0.5% of people who currently sit on boards worldwide have any kind of formal qualification in the subject. 

Training with established agencies sets you up for success from day one. You will learn the practicalities of board membership, assessing your company’s health, and the dynamics of leadership, networking and team-building.

The right temperament

On a board, you are at the crossroads of several different groups of stakeholders, and it’s often your job to keep all of them happy. 

Because of this, you’ll need to be enthusiastic about working in large groups and achieving results in that setting. Your communication, motivation and networking skills must be at a standout level. 

Frequently, your role will involve delivering an honest, independent critique of your company’s primary business decisions. You need to be sure you can do that in a way that keeps senior management focused and optimistic about the tasks ahead. 

At the same time, you must report accurately to investors, giving them the complete picture of your company’s health and expert opinion when it has failed to reach its goals.

The right application

When you’re offered a board member position, you will have submitted an application showcasing your unique potential as part of an important team. 

The correct application is well-researched and shows the strong alignment between your personal goals and the company’s business priorities.

It is backed by a strong CV and a positive working relationship with those in the company. Investors want to know the candidate and want to be sure that they will be a success in their role. Networking is key to making this happen.

The right eye for numbers

As a board member, strategy will dominate your to-do list. You’ll offer critique and guidance when the company develops strategy and monitor progress once it puts it into action. 

This will inevitably come back to numbers and financial statements. Your job as a board member is to understand what picture those statements are painting. 

Dedicated board member training can teach much of this, but you will always have an advantage if your eye for numbers is strong.

The proper appreciation for goals beyond profit

Now more than ever, stakeholders focus on strategies that incorporate sustainability, employee welfare and social values. These are usually grouped under the term, environmental, social and governance (ESG). 

To become a board member, you should appreciate the values associated with ESG because you will likely see it identified as a priority when you sit down with colleagues, investors and management.

In summary

Joining a board takes a lot of effort and experience, but it is not impossible. 

As long as you break the task down into manageable pieces of work and have the right skills, experience, and corporate governance training, you should be set up for a successful experience on a board.

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Diploma in Corporate Governance

Enhance your career as a director. Develop the practical knowledge, insight and global mindset to be a great board director.

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