How to prepare to be a board member

by Dan Byrne on Sep 7, 2022

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet” 

      – Bobby Unser

If you’re about to take up a board position for the first time, congratulations. 

It will be one of your best career moves. It’s a chance to use your proven pallet of skills and experiences to guide an organisation in the right direction. 

What’s important is that you start as you mean to go on. Turn up to your first meeting prepared; otherwise, you risk relegating yourself to a member who participates minimally, or not at all.

Today’s boards do not want participants in name only; they want active, engaging members who will challenge the norms with independent ways of thinking.

How to prepare to be a board member

Keep this advice in mind as you embark on this promising career path.

You are not in your comfort zone anymore

Sitting on a board is a fantastic achievement, but it also carries immense challenges.

This is how it’s supposed to be. Boardrooms are full of diverse backgrounds, differing opinions, and decades of combined experience in different fields, ensuring a company remains fit to continue.  

This environment will be demanding, but it is also one of a board’s greatest strengths. So, don’t shy away from this environment; learn to navigate it.

Encourage your inquisitive side

Questions are the measure of a good board member. 

They frequently have to sift through endless strategy documents and complex financial statements that show the company’s health. This information should be a breeding ground for questions, and you’re the one who needs to ask them. 

Forbes has an extensive list that you should seriously consider, because they cut right to the heart of what the company is doing. 

If an aspect of business strategy doesn’t look right, ask why it’s there. If a balance sheet suggests unsustainable liabilities in the business, ask what the company is doing to address them. 

Develop a culture of questioning within your approach to board membership. It is vital for success and likely why you were selected in the first place.

Invest in your governance skills

Corporate governance is a combination of qualifications, but you can – and should – expand them further once you’re at that level. 

You should ideally seek a formal qualification around sitting on a board. It’s a specialised career path requiring a distinct knowledge base. It’s vital to have that knowledge in place before you start.

Open your mind

Sitting on a board for the first time, you’ll probably notice that the volume of opinions around you has dramatically increased. It might initially feel overwhelming, especially when trying to find your place amid all the noise. 

Ultimately, you should open your mind to these opinions as far as you can. Learn from others, not just your own experience. You and your colleagues are in that boardroom because your diverse views complement each other, so let this happen.

Engage with the current trends in corporate governance

There’s no getting away with what’s popular in business, and this is especially true for board members, who must maintain a complete view of their company and its place in the broader industry. 

At the moment, companies give a lot of time to environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives, so much that the entire sector is worth an estimated $41 trillion in investment, and climbing.

This topic, and others such as HR performance and cybersecurity, are dominating boardroom discussions and likely will in future.

You don’t need to be ultra-familiar with every one of these topics, but it would be wise to know a lot about at least one.

Know your own strengths and weaknesses

Before your first board meeting, analyse what you’re good at. 

Board members are leaders, and a good leader will always know where they excel and where they can improve.

Prepare yourself for feedback too. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is an evolving process; it might be years before someone mentions something they didn’t like or would like to see again.

Know your mentors and inspirations

Have a good idea about who has influenced your career, whether they’re someone you know or not. Everyone has influences, and it’s always a good idea to write down the aspects of their careers that you most admire. 

For personal mentors, remind yourself of what they have said through the years that shaped your career. These things stick with you for a reason. If they were relevant during the rest of your time in business, why not the boardroom?

In summary

Starting your time as a board member means doing two things:

  • Understanding the environment, you’re about to enter
  • Knowing how you fit into that environment

Preparing yourself under these two headings will help your first few months in the boardroom. To become an effective, next-generation board member you can take the Diploma in Corporate Governance. 

Diploma in Corporate Governance

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

Learn more

Diploma in Corporate Governance

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

Learn more
Board Member
Corporate Governance
Corporate governance training

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